No monkey business! | Daily News

No monkey business!

Monkey Kingdom

Set in a picturesque sacred ruin in a Sri Lankan jungle Walt Disney Picture's nature conservation documentry 'Monkey Kingdom' is not focused on the typical approach of projecting the animals as endangered specias. Instead, it aims to cultivate empathy and admiration for these highly intelligent beings.

Filmed against their home background, the movie zooms on Maya, a low born in the group who turns underdog to raise and protect her baby, Kip. Cast aside by the alpha male, Raja, who prefers a trio of females dubbed 'the sisters' in the movie, Maya shows that she is one plucky character. When a hunky looking monkey named Kumar turns up and woos Maya, he is chased out of the group by Raja. However by then Maya is pregnant with Kumar's son. With a child to feed Maya has a new mission in life. She has to overcome her bottom-of-the-ladder social status to make sure her son is fed and safe.

The main plot centers on Maya's ascension to a higher status within the troop. However it is a hard won battle, not purely a matter of lucky mating for her. She has to fight to beat the odds at all times.

High class monkeys monopolize safe food sources and the tastiest tidbits while Maya must forage in dangerous places or eat unripe fruit.

A turf battle with a rival troop that leaves one member of Maya's community dead and the rest homeless. However with her inborn skills to survive, Maya leads the troupe to the city where they heal their wounds, learn from the past and return as a stronger pack to reclaim their territory which is called 'Castle Rock'.

The camera angles are superbly handled in the movie. For instance the panoramic view of the waterfall is breathtaking. Another memorable scene is shot when Maya spots Kumar. With the song 'What a Man' playing in the background, the camera crew had managed to capture some of the most macho shots of Kumar leaping up to grab a handful of leaves. Kip's helplessness and innocence are brought forth to the viewers with close shots of his huge earlobes, gigantic eyes and squeaky cry. This tugs at the hearts of the audience when he is lost and Maya spends hours hunting for her baby.

The scenes are said to be unstaged but fall into a clear storyline wonderfully. The filmmakers have let the monkeys be monkeys and had explored their mannerisms and social structure. Capturing intimate close ups of their daily life is no walk in the park but one the team had triumphed over beautifully. They even go one step further and go underwater with Maya and her team as they dive into a predator-infested pond. There is wit as well as tearful scenes which will touch the young and old alike.

Tina Fey's voiceover flows along comfortably with the shots. Whatever the situation, her slyly hilarious narration enhances our connection with it. Fey can be dryly funny, goofy and sometimes even solemn when the occasion calls for it, and she finds just the right tone every time. It’s also a refreshing change of pace to have a woman narrate one of these types of films.

Though the team's main focus is on the monkeys they also capture highlights of the forest. We see the monkeys interacting with other animals like a chipmunk and a mongoose, deers engaged in sport, a seven-foot monitor lizard sliding into the water and a leopard trying to sneak in upone the monkeys. This is Disney's documentry making at its best!

The jungle itself is alive and homey. One of the most striking images captured on film is the vision of winged termites taking off into the skies.

Kudos to director Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill for their effort in spending long hours capturing shots which fall perfectly into the storyline.

There are a few questionable scenes in the movie. For instance when Kip is taken away from her the movie projects one of the sisters playing with Kip on the rock while Maya wanders through the jungle.

It is puzzling why Maya did not look for Kip on the rock first when she realized that her baby has been taken as a punishment for her.


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