RICHARD’S WEEKEND MOVIE REVIEWS FROM CP24! FRIDAY APRIL 17, 2015.
Richard’s CP24 movie reviews for “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,” “Unfriended” and “Monkey Kingdom.”
Watch the whole thing HERE!
“Monkey Kingdom,” the new film from Disneynature, begins with “(Theme from) The Monkees” on the soundtrack. The actual monkeys in the film—a tribe of toque macaques—however, don’t sing, but they do monkey around.
This time Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill, the co-directors of Disneynature’s “Earth” and “Chimpanzee” show us a family of monkeys living in ancient ruins in the jungles of Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka. It’s a complex society built around the hierarchy of the stone structure and a tree. Those at the top, like alpha male Raja, enjoy blazing sunlight and all the ripe fruit they can eat. Like a feudal lord Raja carefully guards his place and the rank of the other “high-borns” from interlopers.
Under him are “the sisterhood,” red-faced (not embarrassed monkeys, they are literally red-faced) moms and aunties who are the next in charge. “These ladies get what they want,” says narrator Tina Fey. They are brutal and uncompromising. Think “The Walking Dead’s” Carol and you get the idea.
In this world a jackfruit isn’t just food, it’s a political tool used to assert prominence and humiliate underlings.
Born at the bottom of the tree, figuratively and literally, is Maya, a “low-born” toque macaque and single mom of Kip. Like a simian Kitty Foyle all she wants is to make a better life for herself and move up the social ladder. When a warring clan overruns their home Raja and company are forced to leave and relocate in a nearby city. Urban life stands in stark contrast to the rural kingdom they left behind, but it is here Maya thrives and improves her standing in the macaque community.
A mix of education and entertainment, “Monkey Kingdom” is filled with useful information, beautiful imagery and ape anecdotes. Fey’s narration blends learning with light-hearted joshing—like a parent reading a picture book to a child—and images guaranteed to appeal to up younger viewers. Is there anything cuter than a snoring monkey? I’ll answer that for you. No there isn’t, and I’m sure your kids will agree. The voice over occasionally tries a bit too hard—describing Maya’s mate as “fifteen pounds of hunky monkey” is too cute by half—but as a vocal tour guide to the story Fey is an agreeable presence.
“Monkey Kingdom” does feature some mild “circle of life” scenes but focuses most of its kid-friendly 77 minute running time on the familial lifestyle and complicated relationships of these fascinating creatures.
All babies are adorable. Whether they walk on two legs or four, have fur all over, or wings, tusks or even a blow hole, there is something irresistible about the young of any species. The makers of the new Disney film Earth know this and the cute factor of this natural history documentary is dialed way up. Of course there is a strong environmental message mixed into the story of the migration paths of four animal families but my guess is kids will walk away with visions of baby polar bears dancing in their heads rather than concern about global warming.
Earth is a condensed version of the BBC series Planet Earth, a ninety minute trek from pole to pole. Shot over 4,500 days in 200 locations around the globe the combined budget of the television show and the movie is upwards of $40 million, making it the most expensive documentary ever, and every dime of it is on the screen. It’s a visually spectacular feast for the eyes. Beautiful time lapse photography and stunning aerial shots of Mount Everest are pure eye candy, but it is the intimate and thrilling shots of the animals that are truly memorable. From baby polar bears shakily taking their first steps to the preening, exotic Bird of Paradise and the spectacular humpback whale and calf hunting for plankton, the film gets us up close and personal with these creatures.
These images speak for themselves and as such don’t need the clumsy and overly simplistic narration. Voiced with booming gravitas by James Earl Jones (there are different narrators for different countries, including Patrick Stewart) the voice over is repetitive and lacks any new information or insight. Maybe bring an iPod and just enjoy the pictures.
Earth is a Disney release, so it is family friendly, but there are a couple of scenes involving the cruel realities of the animal kingdom that may be too intense for very young viewers. One little girl—maybe just three or four years old—at the screening I saw yelled, “Why! Daddy! Why!” during a scene where a wolf tracks and captures a caribou calf. It’s bloodless, the camera cuts away before nature really takes its toll, but is scary nonetheless.
Earth is a beautifully made film that errs on the side of cutesy a bit too often, but is a splendid experience nonetheless.