Christian Movie Reviews - Family Friendly Entertainment

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Cinderella Story Gets Delightful Simian Spin in Monkey Kingdom

Cinderella Story Gets Delightful Simian Spin in <i>Monkey Kingdom</i>

DVD Release Date: September 15, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: April 17, 2015
Rating: G
Genre: Documentary
Run Time: 81 min.
Directors: Mark Linfield, Alistair Fothergill
Narration: Tina Fey

Let’s face it, cute and camera-friendly animals can't help winning over even the crankiest of critics. Regardless of this easy-to-love subject matter, however, Disneynature has done an exceptional job of showcasing the splendor of nature for the past nine years. From the lush cinematography to the filmmakers' inherent knack for catching the spontaneous moments that can't be storyboarded in a traditional script, it’s easy to see why these family-friendly Disneynature productions have become a welcome yearly tradition in conjunction with Earth Day.

But as good as everything from Bears to African Cats to Oceans have been in the past, 2015's Monkey Kingdom is easily the best of the bunch. With a strong storyline anchoring the production, not to mention lively, and of course, very funny, narration from Tina Fey (Muppets Most Wanted), Monkey Kingdom is not only a valuable educational experience but is downright entertaining to boot.

Set in the jungle of Sri Lanka, Monkey Kingdom immediately draws you into the surprisingly complicated fight for survival in the simian world, proving that class warfare isn't just a human thing. Viewers are immediately introduced to the monkey chain of command. There’s the king of the jungle, an alpha male named Raja, and for added intimidation, Raja is flanked by a trio of faithful females dubbed "The Sisters." Just like the wicked stepsisters in Cinderella, plus an extra instigator of snobbery for good measure, the sisters, along with Raja, basically want all the good stuff in life for themselves. In their world, that means the tastiest food, the best sleeping spot, and for everyone else in the kingdom, they’re relegated to scraps and discomfort.

The Cinderella of this story is a feisty bottom-dweller, Maya. Maya knows her place from a very young age, and just in case she ever questioned her rank, Raja and the sisters are happy to remind her with a well-placed slap, push or taunt. They’ll even steal food straight from her mouth if they have to. So for any shot at a good meal or a decent place to rest, Maya and the rest of the lower class have to get creative. And oftentimes, the quest for a better existence requires quite a bit of bravery.

But before Monkey Kingdom starts feeling like a total downer, an unexpected visitor shakes things up. Introduced as "one hunky monkey," Kumar immediately takes a liking to Maya. In one of the movie's funniest scenes, Kumar's flirting techniques may be more than a little obvious, but Maya plays it cool. Knowing Raja and the sisters would never allow her to have a mate, Maya has to let Kumar know she likes him in secret. Before long, Maya finds herself pregnant, and Kumar is chased out of the kingdom.

Now forced to find sustenance for two, Maya's life as a single mother has grown increasingly more challenging but equally rewarding once her son arrives. Adding another layer of complexity to the proceedings, Raja and the sisters also find their charmed existence in flux when a group of rival monkeys takes over Castle Rock, the place they've ruled and reigned for so long.

The fight for survival is a universal one, of course, and it’s incredible how much the monkeys' behavior and emotional capacity is eerily human. Seeing how they respond to new challenges and how much they care for their loved ones is just one of the many rewards of watching.

Humor, a strong sense of pacing, the aforementioned camerawork and a fun soundtrack also helps this Cinderella story come to life. But like the best stories, having someone to root for is paramount to its success. Not surprisingly, Monkey Kingdom has that in spades with Maya and her young son who can't help but win you over right from the start.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: None
  • Language/Profanity: None 
  • Sex/Nudity: References to giving birth
  • Violence/Thematic Material: Discussion of death and a few dangerous moments involving predators when the monkeys search nearby waters for food. Some of the "high class" monkeys are particularly cruel to monkeys they deem lower in importance. One such instance involves the kidnapping of a newborn monkey to get back at his mother.

Publication date: April 16, 2015