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Disneynature’s “Monkey Kingdom” Reviewed

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I don’t think anyone, human or other species, doesn’t loath anthropomorphism, it belittle other species and it is a danger to humans -I was reading a little while ago about Tippi Hedren (Melanie Griffith’s mom, who starred in “The Birds” and should have known better) once raising a fully grown lion as a member of the family. This was cruel to all concerned, forcing a lion to control its most natural instincts. Dangerous and foolish. I have a friend who owns a Pit Bull was attacked her the other day. She hid the truth from her family and there is no way at all to blame the Pit Bull for being a Pit Bull: it is a different species and it is terrible, arrogant, and just plain stupid to pretend otherwise.

In the 1960s movies like Disney’s “The Incredible Journey” (“three animals – a bull terrier; a labrador retriever and a Siamese cat – travel 200 miles across the Canadian wilderness to find their owners”) blurred the line between fiction and fact and also misrepresented animals. I loved them when I was seven years old, but as I grew old I, and many naturalists, questioned the entire enterprise.

In the current Disneynature production “Monkey Kingdom”, a colony of macaque monkeys were filmed over a span of three years in the Sri Lankan forest by Planet Earth’s Alastair Fothergill and also director Mark Linfield. It is the story of a  strict caste system which has forced our hero Maya, to scavenge for leftovers from the Alpha male and his sisters at the top of the monkey food chain. Not unlike any royal family, it is a system built not to be broached and the movie tells the story of how Maya, her baby son, Kip, and Kip’s father, Kumar, who, after the monkeys are invaded by rivals and forced to retreat to a Sri Lankan town, leads the fight to retake the abandoned Temple they call home.

Maya? Kip? Kumar? Yes, this is not entirely fact at all and Tina Fey’s wonderful and warm narration, blurs the line even further. I am a minority of one, who has never cared much for Tina Fey -she is like Gilda Radner with a chip on her shoulder, I was never much into “30 Rock” either (which “Monkey Kingdom” resembles, at least in an art imitates life way), but she is excellent here. Tina’s voice requests and receives empathy from us, as she explains the nature of the nature. We care so much because she cares so much. But we quite see them as fellow creatures with the rights of fellow creatures. It is intrusive without being helpful.

But the mixing of the feigned and the real shows how little Disney have moved on since 1963. Despite the seamless storytelling, and true heroes and a life force change, is it like really real?  Maybe not, but its main target audience, children, should thoroughly enjoy it either way.

Grade: B+

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