Granger on Movies: 'Monkey Kingdom'
This is the eighth Disneynature live-action eco-documentary -- and one of the best. Narrated by Tina Fey, it follows a toque macaque monkey in Sri Lanka on her journey up the social ladder.
Since Disney movie-makers routinely anthropomorphize animals, giving them names, the heroine is Maya. She and her simian troop live in abandoned Buddhist temple ruins, now overrun by jungle.
Poor Maya is at the bottom of the social order. Which means that -- while Raja, the alpha male macaque, and a trio of his favored females can climb to the top of a fig tree and eat the ripest fruit -- Maya and the other low-born must remain on the ground, foraging for scraps.
One fine day, male macaque named Kumar comes visiting. Tina Fey wryly dubs him a "hunky monkey." Kumar is banished by Raja but not before impregnating Maya, who gives birth to a baby called Kip.
Soon afterwards, a rival band of macaques invades their Castle Rock habitat, exiling Maya's tribe to fend for themselves as they're forced to explore neighboring terrain, including a nearby town.
Using her ingenuity to care for her tiny son, feisty Maya finds her way into favor, particularly when Kumar returns to replace aging Raja as leader of the clan.
According to writer, co-director and producer Mark Linfield: "Maya is kind of like any female human, trying to do the best for her kid. But she's got the weight of macaque society pressing on her as well. So she has to use her street smarts to get out of this sort of social straitjacket that she was in."
What's remarkable is how close Linfield's crew could get to the primates over the 2½ years of filming, focusing on their recognizably human traits. Amplifying the effect is Harry Gregson-Williams' score, which includes "The Monkees" TV theme song.
FYI: It's quite family-friendly except for a few tense scenes that might briefly frighten preschoolers.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Monkey Kingdom" is an engaging 8, combining education with entertainment -- and proceeds from Disneynature documentaries help protect the natural world.
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