By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A mom in Sri Lanka welcomes her newborn son into the world and, immediately worried about his future, makes giving him an opportunity boost her top priority.
Lest that description seem unremarkably mundane, consider that the mother and child are monkeys.
Macaque monkeys Maya and Kip are the focal characters in Monkey Kingdom, a nature documentary about the simian society’s rigid class system.
When the Temple Troop, a group of powerful neighboring monkeys living higher on the social ladder than Maya and Kip, takes over their longtime home situated among the abandoned Buddhist temples and ancient ruins in the jungles of Polonnaruwa, hungry Maya and Kip are forced to relocate in the direction of the urban area and scavenge as their search for food becomes ever more problematic and the survival-of-the-fittest drama plays out, with them keeping a careful watch for dangerous predators like the monitor lizard.
There is perhaps a tad too much narration, even if it is adroitly delivered by Tina Fey, but at least the film is only slightly anthropomorphic.
Produced and directed by Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill, the co-directors of 2007’s Earth and 2012’s Chimpanzee, Monkey Kingdom offers a reasonable number of privileged moments, many of them amusing thanks to the high-energy antics on display, as the monkeys, social creatures who always travel in packs, are constantly swinging from vines, falling down and bouncing right back up, slapping one another playfully around, and displaying emotions both joyous and downbeat.
But while the cutesy factor, inevitably spiked by these colorful creatures, cannot be dismissed, it’s only one of a number of notes sounded.
And the remarkably resourceful photography keeps begging the question, “How did they get that shot?,” which the film answers halfheartedly with a bit of peeking-behind-the-curtain footage during the final credits.
Not that that will occur to young kids, who should be glued to the screen without being thusly distracted.
So we’ll relocate 2½ stars out of 4 for this G-rated, strikingly shot nature doc. Youngsters should find Monkey Kingdom, as either an alternative or a companion activity to a zoo visit, more fun than a barrel of… well, you know.