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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that nature documentary Monkey Kingdom is family friendly overall but does have a few scenes that could frighten preschool-aged viewers. While Maya, the monkey who's presented as the main character of the story, and her baby remain safe, other members of her clan of macaques do die -- one to an alligator and one to a warring monkey clan. There are also tense moments when it seems like Maya's baby will be hurt, and Maya herself is beaten by more prominent monkeys. On the lighter side, there are strong positive messages about motherhood and sacrifice, and -- thanks in part to Tina Fey's narration -- humor and laughs for the whole family. And on an educational note, everyone will learn a good deal about Sri Lankan macaques.
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What's the story?
Set in Sri Lanka, MONKEY KINGDOM is narrated by Tina Fey and follows Maya, a female toque macaque at the bottom of her clan's social hierarchy. Maya isn't one of the alpha male's preferred mates -- those are a trio of sister macaques who are quick to swat at any monkeys who don't know their place -- but she's still plucky and finds her own way. When "hunky monkey" Kumar visits the troop's habitat -- dubbed Castle Rock -- during mating season and picks Maya to woo, she ends up pregnant ... but the alpha male banishes Kumar from the clan. After baby Kip's birth, Maya must find a way to overcome her bottom-of-the-ladder social status to make sure her son is fed and safe.
Is it any good?
Nature film experts Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill reteam for another Disneynature wildlife documentary that's sure to please both kids and parents. These types of films do tend to humanize the animal subjects, but that won't bother most young viewers (or many older ones, frankly). Thanks to Fey's winning narration and the compelling central storyline, the documentary has a strong narrative arc. Maya is the ideal "underdog"; she's low-born but doesn't let that get in her way, especially when Kumar and baby Kip enter the picture. It's impossible not to root for her and Kip to survive -- even if that means other monkeys are the ones falling prey to alligators and aggressive rivals.
And the visuals, as always, are spectacular. The gorgeous fig tree, the Castle Rock habitat, the neighboring bears -- it's all shot with a majesty and beauty that showcases everything from the three freckles on Maya's face to the heavy rain during monsoon season to the shady trees where the posher monkeys take shelter. Thanks to Maya's courtship with Kumar, the introduction of the baby, and the rival clan, Monkey Kingdom has plenty of plot. It's easy to watch for both for the story and the cinematography -- a great combination of entertainment and educational value. And if little ones get worried about Maya and baby Kip, just remind them that this is, after all, a Disney movie, and our favorite characters will get their happily ever after.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why wildlife documentaries like Monkey Kingdom are so popular. What attracts families to nature films? Are they more appropriate for kids than other live-action movies? Why or why not?
Narrator Tina Fey combines moments of humor and imagined dialogue with facts about the monkeys' lives, habitats, and social structure. Does the balance of humor and trivia work? Which parts do you prefer?
Does humanizing animals in movies like Monkey Kingdom make them more or less relatable? How are some of the animals depicted as "good" and "caring"? Or as "bullies"?
How does Monkey Kingdom compare to other wildlife documentaries?
- In theaters: April 17, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: September 15, 2015
- Cast: Tina Fey
- Directors: Mark Linfield, Alastair Fothergill
- Studio: Disneynature
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Science and Nature, Wild Animals
- Character strengths: Courage
- Run time: 81 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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