Tina Fey plus monkeys equals fun for all in “Monkey Kingdom”

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Before going to see Disneynature’s latest film, “Monkey Kingdom,” I must ask you a couple of questions. First: Do you like monkeys? Specifically, do you like toque macaque monkeys, the kind featured in this film? Do you like seeing monkeys play and act like monkeys? And the stringent hierarchy of the monkey kingdom? Yes?

Wait, don’t answer yet. Second question: Do you like Tina Fey? Do you think Liz Lemon narrating the adventures of a troop of monkeys sounds like a good time? Never mind the fact there must be something wrong with your heart if you don’t think any of this is unbearably cute, but if for some reason this is not your thing, please do not go see “Monkey Kingdom.” If any of this does sound like your cup of tea, however, “Monkey Kingdom,” directed by Mark Linfield (“Earth”) and narrated by Tina Fey, combines beautiful shots of Sri Lankan jungle and Fey’s occasionally quirky narration to tell the story of one troop of monkeys, and in particular, a single common monkey within the troop, Maya.

Maya’s troop lives in an ancient abandoned ruin called Castle Rock in the Sri Lankan jungles near the town of Polonnaruwa. The opening scene of the film sets the tone for the rest of the film, as the Monkees’ theme song plays as we see monkeys swinging and playing from trees and running around with each other. Maya is introduced as one of the monkeys near the bottom of the social hierarchy, as she is last in getting food, among other things. We are also introduced to the three sisters, who are high in the hierarchy, and Raja, the head of the troop. Eventually a new monkey, Kumar, comes and impregnates Maya before being ostracized from the troop. Maya has a son, a new troop of monkeys kicks Maya’s troop out of Castle Rock and they must figure out how to survive.

At its core, “Monkey Kingdom,” despite it officially being a documentary, has all the basic tenants you’d expect from a Disney film: a heartwarming, family-friendly story that’s a nice time for everyone to watch. Fey’s narration, fortunately or unfortunately, is restrained from being too snarky to keep the film suitable for all ages. While certain moments may leave you asking for more, hearing her make all sorts of funny noises as the monkeys gorge on cake and other human food at one point is well worth the watch.

The film’s story at times comes off as a bit contrived, as in the aforementioned scene when the monkeys just happen to find their way into a human house that just had a party and is full of sweets and food. You also have to wonder whether the monkeys are actually feeling all the things Fey mentions.

However, most of this is easy to forgive because, well — watching monkeys rummage through junk food and acting generally like monkeys is fun to watch. The film makes up for its generic-but-charming story through the perceived authenticity of monkeys simply doing monkey things, as well as Linfield and cinematographers Martyn Colbeck and Gavin Thurston’s beautiful shots of the monkeys, jungles and other animals.

Though it may not stand as the most breathtaking nature documentary you’ll ever see, “Monkey Kingdom” is a good time for anyone looking for one. Sometimes some good old-fashioned monkeying around is all you need.

Rating: 3.75 stars

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