Review: Monkey Kingdom.

Alert: The following review contains spoilers!

One of Disney’s latest productions, Monkey Kingdom is a documentary that exceeds expectations, especially when compared to what Disney has been churning out for the past few years. Part of the Disneynature series which also includes documentaries on bears, African cats, oceans and the like, this sparked our interest coz a) it was shot in Sri Lanka and b) it was shot in Sri Lanka. We’re patriotic like that.

JK, it seemed like a good movie in addition to being shot here, so we were curious about it anyway.

A Bit of Background

According to Jane Goodall (who was in Sri Lanka during the filming as well. How did I not know that?!), these monkeys have been studied for 40 years. The filming crew were here for three years, so they knew the monkeys pretty personally. I know this because the Wall Street Journal has an article on it. Released earlier in April, the documentary was shot in Polonnaruwa and has some pretty epic scenes of the area, with focus on the lush greenery and historical ruins. Sitting in the middle of bustling Colombo, it’s hard to imagine that such serenity and wilderness exists just a few hours away from here.

The Movie

“”The kings who once reigned here are long gone. There’s a new dynasty, but this one is governed by the law of the jungle.””

This was one of the opening lines, and it has you hooked as Tina Fey (who is the narrator of the film) acquaints the audience with the clan of monkeys that is the focus of this documentary. She takes us through how the laws of the jungle are played out among this new kingdom of monkeys, as opposed to the dynasty reigned by humans over a thousand years ago.

The monkeys are personified, and you’re introduced to them on a more personal level so that you get to know the personality of Raja, his three mean consorts, and Maya, the underdog and heroine of this story. As the minutes tick by, you’re introduced to a few other characters as well, and begin to truly appreciate the intelligent creatures that live in the wild. You begin to see them more as individuals, and begin to relate more to their lives than you’d have thought possible.

Take, for instance, the sloth bear who carries her cubs around and tries to avoid running into her avid suitor, who finally flops down and falls asleep when he gets tired of waiting. Or how the red-coated mongoose who lives in the same area as the monkeys tries to hide from them when they become too hyperactive and want to play. And how there is a class system even within the monkey colony, one that Maya tries to overcome. It’s not exactly the alpha-beta system because defeating the existing alpha male doesn’t mean gaining dominance over the group. Instead, this is an actual class system where the lower classes are not allowed access to food and shelter enjoyed by the higher classes. Maya is from the bottom-most tier and her existence isn’t even acknowledged by the alpha-male and the other higher-class primates, but the moment a new male emerges and displays interest in Maya, the alpha-male gets super possessive of her.

Moving on from the animals (this isn’t all about animals, I swear. Well, it is, but you know how Brother Bear isn’t all about bears? Likewise.) and back to the documentary, it was hilarious, entertaining, and educational, not necessarily in that order. It features politics, love triangles, sudden bursts of song, and full-blown battles, I kid you not.

Oh, and their kingdom home? It’s called Castle Rock. Sounds familiar? Helloooo, Game of Throne fans. Given the amount of politics and mean queens/ consorts in this story, it’s not that different to Casterly Rock, if you think about it.

Hilarity ensures when you realize that this thing is a mashup of a typical Disney story, a Bollywood hit, and a nature documentary. This surprisingly isn’t a bad combo — it’s pretty brilliant, actually.

Maya is our Disney princess here, the underdog of the monkey tribe who meets Kumar, the hunky monkey. Tina Fey honestly delivers this ‘hunky monkey’ line off like nobody else can. If you have a decent sense of humour, you’ll roll over laughing when Kumar is introduced. 

  • Typical Disney story: Maya’s adventure from rags to riches. This monkey literally overcomes class barriers and rises to the top. There are also songs scattered throughout. 
  • Bollywood: The love triangle between the alpha, the new male and Maya. The battles. The ending. Oh, and how they introduced the male lead! Slow-motion action shots, cheesy songs playing in the background, starry-eyed females (even if they are monkeys) watching him make his grand entrance. 
  • Nature documentary: The cinematography is spectacular. The narration is humorous and educational, and the wildlife shots are topnotch.

Did You Know?

Did you know that:

  • Scorpions collect food for later, on their backs?
  • Monkeys can harvest water-lily seed pods?
  • Monkeys can swim?
  • It’s sad when monkeys bid farewell when one of their number dies?
  • Lower-class monkeys are better at identifying predators than those of the higher classes?
  • Monkey battles are pretty intense, especially when combined with dramatic music?


This documentary has a lot of depth to it despite its lightheartedness with the music and funny lines. It’s super interesting to know that monkeys have a class/ caste system, and to learn that they also just either accept their lot, or try to make their way up to the top. It’s brilliantly shot, and the manner in which current English songs were juxtaposed with scenes from the remnants of ancient South Asia made for an interesting mix. 

We totally recommend watching this.

Monkey Kingdom is currently screening at 5 EAP theatres. Sadly, Savoy is only showing it for the 9 AM show. Other theatres screening it include: Excel 3D in Colombo 10, Cinemax in Ja Ela, Willmax 3D in Anuradhapura and Queens 3D in Galle. You can get tickets online at the EAP website.

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