Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Aha! Earth Day has recently come upon us and to mark the season, here is another gorgeously filmed edition of Disneynature. This one is "Monkey Kingdom". Once again we are in a magically tinged but altogether real land where animals rightly take center stage and humans are almost forgotten.
We are shown a group of macaques that like some human societies have a caste system.
The Disney camera zeroes in on Maya, who is held in a lower caste restriction, (that is confined to the lower tree branches and exposed to harsh nature) by Raja and the selfish "sisters" who have vain and spiteful red complexions.
Maya is a simian Cinderella who yearns for the highest peaks of Castle Rock where she can bask in luxury and be forever groomed. But she is vexed by the power above her. Enter Kumar, a Romeo, or as Tina Fey says in a line that would be otherwise corny: "one hunky monkey".
After a war, Maya is forced to vacate as she now has a baby Kip with Nosferatu ears.
Maya, full of pluck and a warrior mom spirit goes on her own.
If the story seems boringly humanoid and predictably mundane it isn't, thanks to the hyper-realistic cinematography and some self deprecating and quirky voiceover work by Tina Fey who imbues Maya's struggle with her own persona of a resilient woman not above taboo.
Highlights are a monkey invasion of a human residence as they steal bread, sugar, squash and eggs during a birthday party and then climb a cell tower and short out communications.
"Terrifying!" exclaims Fey, siding with the leaping macaques. There are precious echoes of "Planet of the Apes".
True to form, the humans are seen as lethargic and clueless, with senses to primitive to react.
To see a yellow and black monitor lizard is to witness a Devil in paradise and we can almost hear the occult voice of a Jeremy Irons.
The real surprise is in the simple watching of these primates that are somehow infused with a electric charisma as compelling as rock stars or eccentric celebrities. And the "sister macaques" are as vain and malevolent as a thousand Wicked Queens: their faces painted and pained in a boiling red as much from vanity and privilege as from malice.
While the haunting and gothically charged song from Lorde (heard in the trailer) would have done better than the obvious theme from The Monkees in showing the macaques furtive and tribal existence, it is well taken that the film is for younger viewers.
The conjuring trick of "Monkey Kingdom" is that it makes no assumptions or talks down to our human selves. Instead, with dazzle and wit, it forces us to recognize our own individual Simian that hunches within most sentient hearts.
Write Ian at email@example.com