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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Monkey Kingdom documentary review: growing up in the jungle

Monkey Kingdom green light

Simplistic, but a charming and child-friendly introduction to our cousins in the wild that no zoo could provide, with a monkey heroine whom kids will cheer.
I’m “biast” (pro): monkeys!

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Disneynature, the Mouse’s nature-documentary arm, continues its quest to introduce kids to our cousins in the wild with Monkey Kingdom, a charming if simplistic film that gets us up close to animals in their own environment in a way that not even the most sophisticated zoo could ever achieve. In the Sri Lankan jungle lives “Maya,” a macaque monkey born at the bottom of her troop’s social hierarchy, where she is subject to such injustices as being bullied by her higher-ranking neighbors — even the babies! — and missing out on all the best food treats — tasty mushrooms! — which are invariably gone by the time it’s her turn to eat. Is there a way for Maya to improve her position in the troop? We shall see… Tina Fey’s (Sisters) narration is full of good humor that will not displease adults, but this is a child-friendly film, from the silly sountrack — “Hey Hey We’re the Monkees” accompanies our introduction to the macaque tribe — to much sweetly goofy monkey antics: the raid Maya and her pals make on a (human) child’s birthday party is fairly hilarious, as is a foray from the jungle into the city, which features petty theft from the food market and a playful encounter with a dog. From Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill, who last made Disneynature’s Chimpanzee, Kingdom has it all, from monkey politics to monkey warfare to monkey romance, but it’s demure on the details: there is no blood here, and Maya’s personal life jumps from “hey, she’s got a handsome suitor” to “hey, she’s got a cute baby.” But kids will recognize, appreciate, and cheer Maya’s journey from a meek youngster who is punished for transgressing the social rules of her peers to a confident creature who finds a comfortable place in her world.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Monkey Kingdom for its representation of girls and women.

green light 3.5 stars

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Monkey Kingdom (2015)
US/Can release: Apr 17 2015

MPAA: rated G

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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