Monkey Kingdom is evocative in its photography

by Steve Pulaski

It’s almost required to see a Disneynature film with a friend or somebody you know will be an active partner during the film rather than a passive observer. Part of the fun of these films is what you bring to them in addition to what they bring to you. This is why, despite someone who prefers attending films alone, I have made it an annual tradition to go with a close friend of mine, as it turns into a quirky trip of her and I quietly voicing our own commentary during these films. They are almost throwbacks to what cinema originated as, a very involved, interactive medium that allowed for human curiosity (logic being defied, illusionist principles being explored, etc) to run wild. The Disneynature line of films are some of the last remaining films that cater to our fascination with the world around us.

Monkey Kingdom is the studio’s offering for Earth Day 2015, and it comes stamped with a brief introduction that discusses how Disneynature is more than a film company, but an impacting organization that functions on a global scale. Frequent theatergoers hear how Disneynature donates all or most of their films’ opening weekend revenue to getting global projects off the ground, and we go through one-by-one how the six previous films impacted something around the world.

Monkey Kingdom
Directed by
Mark Linfield & Alastair Fothergill
Narrated by
Tina Fey
Release Date
17 April 2015
Steve’s Grade: B

Shortly thereafter, we settle into our environment for Monkey Kingdom: the jungles of Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka, where we are greeted with Maya, a macaque monkey who resides in the tumultuous community of monkeys. We instantly see that the monkeys have created a class-system amongst themselves, with one monkey named Raja, assuming the alpha male role and many others having to work their way up the system, or humbly reside at the bottom, in order to enjoy special privileges. Maya is lower on the totem pole, usually the last to garner a meal and the literal doormat for many monkeys around her. Her life becomes, both more rewarding and stressful when she welcomes newborn son Kip, into her family.

Maya’s home is soon overrun by a new tribe of monkeys, who are abusive and determined to command the land, leading her, Kip, and countless other primates to seek shelter somewhere else. This leads to a trip through deep jungles and neighboring villages to try and find a new place to call home.

Unsurprisingly, Monkey Kingdom is absolutely evocative in its photography. Directors Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill (who worked on last year’s Bears, the only other Disneynature film I’ve seen) beautifully capture the land of Sri Lanka, never minimizing its natural beauty. The closeup shots of the monkeys, in addition, are especially lovely, as we see the true features that make up the macaque species and the playfulness that inevitably ensues.

But the real treat here is seeing how the life and system of monkeys isn’t so different from the way that human beings are governed – by a strict ruling class that leads on fear, and the enforcement of conformity costs. This is the part of the monkey environment that may destroy the fantasies of children who think being a monkey is “all fun and games,” as Tina Fey, our narrator, puts it.

One must remember that when they see a Disneynature film, they are seeing a piece of entertainment and not a formal nature documentary; one can see plenty of those on Television for free. Monkey Kingdom shows us a surprisingly different life to a species of animals many of us probably think we know pretty well, and in that sense, Disneynature has, yet again, done its job.