Don’t go into Monkey Kingdom, the latest in Disneynature’s line of documentaries, expecting an examination of the film’s toque macaques as an endangered species. This is not that kind of film. Instead, Monkey Kingdom works to create an empathetic look at the lives of these beings by creating a narrative through two monkeys in particular: Maya, an underdog with a beaming, camera-friendly personality, and her baby, Kip.
Being a Disney film, there’s some anthropomorphizing going on here. Monkey Kingdom sets up Maya’s ascension to a higher status in her troop as a “fight,” while the reality appears to be more luck. There’s also a sense that the filmmakers have selectively edited some of the events in the film to make them appear more dramatic than they might actually be. The film’s individual scenes are clearly unstaged, but it’s not exactly clear if the events unfolded the way the film suggests, or if they’re the result of some clever editing, such as one event that finds monkeys from higher social standing separating Maya from Kip.
The film does capture some dramatic moments that seem far more legitimate. A turf battle with a rival troop leaves a member of the community dead and the rest of Maya’s troop homeless, with the monkeys being forced to journey to a nearby town in search of food and shelter while they recover.
By and large, though, the film keeps to a more upbeat look at the lives of the monkeys in this troop. This approach is aided by Tina Fey’s narration, which shifts between a generally warm narrative tone and occasionally goofy voiceovers. While the film shows the particular struggles of Maya’s life, which include sleeping on colder branches and foraging for food in unsafe areas, the filmmakers also make sure to focus on the more fun aspects of life for the monkeys. These include interactions with other animals, from a mongoose and a squirrel to a domesticated dog.
All in all, Monkey Kingdom works to keep an upbeat tone throughout the film. Shots that serve the narrative are mixed with scenes of day-to-day life for Maya and the other toque macaques. Some montages are set to cheeky pop music (the film’s first montage is set to the theme song from The Monkees, obviously). Keeping in mind the target audience for Disneynature’s films (young children, hence the G rating), Monkey Kingdom offers families a look at nature that can be appreciated by all ages.