[Screen It]


(2015) (Documentary) (G)

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Documentary: A low-ranking mother toque macaque must contend with the various challenges of raising a young son in the jungles of Sri Lanka.
In the jungles of Sri Lanka, Maya is one of several low-ranking toque macaques ruled over by Raja and his trio of sisterly queens. Those monkeys and others in the higher ranks get to feed atop fruitful fig trees and be protected from the elements by a large pile of boulders known as Castle Rock. But not Maya who must scrounge and fend for herself to survive. When Maya ends up having a young son, Kip, by an outsider monkey, Kumar, she must raise her baby without the help of others, at least initially.

When an outside troop of monkeys invades and takes over Castle Rock, Maya's previous resourcefulness comes in handy, especially when she, Kumar and others head back to reclaim their home.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Back in 2012, Disneynature -- the independent film label of The Walt Disney Studios that focuses on nature-based films -- released its sixth such pic, "Chimpanzee." For the most part, I liked the offering, mainly due to the gorgeous and intimate cinematography and exposing young kids to another part of our world, especially something outside of cartoons, computer games and such.

Yet, I had some reservations, namely in terms of a partially fabricated dramatic story to enhance the natural footage; the related anthropomorphization of the chimps; and the sometimes goofy and sometimes annoying voice-over narration by Tim Allen. And that was knowing full well that such an approach would make the documentary aspect more palatable to what could otherwise be fairly restless young viewers.

All of the above also applies to Disneynature's eighth such outing, "Monkey Kingdom," a return to the world of primates after a brief detour into the titular world of "Bears" last year. The footage is terrific like before and the youngins will once again get to witness more cute and interesting critters. But scripted drama (and the accompanying dramatic score) has once again been added to the mix, while Tina Fey has been tapped to serve as our trusty (and sometimes wisecracking) narrator.

Thankfully, her vocal work goes down a bit easier than Allen's and kids will likely enjoy the added shenanigans. For better or worse, however, the plot -- if you will -- is fairly similar to that of "Chimpanzee." Both feature primate mothers doing what they can to care for their offspring, as well as the effects of outsiders infiltrating their territory.

Of course, there are differences as the previous flick focused on the young orphaned chimp, while this one more closely follows the mother and dealing with the hierarchical social strata in her group (she's on the bottom -- something many kids may find kinship with, especially in regards to somewhat similar bullying that occurs far too often in schools nowadays).

As was the case in "Chimpanzee," the monkeys' human-like characteristics -- particularly their facial expressions -- makes the anthropomorphizing go down a bit easier than with other animals. Accordingly, viewers -- especially kids -- will likely empathize with the main "character's" plight, while there's plenty of cute and funny moments (such as monkeys playing with a local dog) to keep the entertainment value high.

Like before, stick around during the end credits to see how the human film crew captured some of the amazing footage. Overall, "Monkey Kingdom" is another winning entry in Disneynature's collection of easily accessible documentaries. It rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed April 11, 2015 / Posted April 17, 2015

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