Did you know monkeys could swim? I did not, and this is one of the very interesting and informative elements of Disneynature's newest film celebrating earth Day, "Monkey Kingdom".


Like other offerings from Disneynature released in conjunction with Earth Day, this latest production showcases lavish, breathtaking cinematography, in addition to heartwarming stories about the inhabitants of these gorgeous lands.


Set in the magnificent jungles of South Asia, against the backdrop of the ruins of what was once a grand city that ruled Sri Lanka a thousand years ago, now called Castle Rock, "Monkey Kingdom" explores a family of toque macaques, the smallest species of macaques, who call Castle Rock their home.


Enchanted by one of the females with a blonde bob, whom they named Maya, the filmmakers, director Mark Linfield and co-director Alastair Fothergill, saw the immense potential in these monkeys and their story of survival. They particularly were struck by Maya's struggle to raise her son and elevate her status in the family, against the odds.


Nature can be cruel. Even in this community of monkeys there are hierarchies and certain protocols, as evidenced by the chief male swatting a baby who makes the mistake of getting too close to his highness. Maya is also the victim of status. She is considered one of the low born, and is not permitted to associate with the high born, or eat any of their food. She must survive on their scraps or find different sources for her nourishment.


This is how we learn that this species of monkeys can swim. Maya and her fellow low born are forced to search the river for blossoms, which are plentiful, but found on and under the water. Linfield and Fothergill are masterful in the filming of this sequence, as we watch Maya and her kin splash and play in the water, swimming below the surface searching for their dinner. Fascinating...


But the dangers are real and close by, as a very large and deadly monitor lizard attacks, and Maya and her baby narrowly escape. It is this kind of intensity that is felt throughout, though none of the violence is actually shown, so children will not be traumatized.


"Monkey Kingdom" contains a great deal of fun and humor. Watching the monkeys cavort around Castle Rock and amuse themselves tormenting a poor mongoose is very entertaining. And witnessing their invasion of a neighboring town and "stealing" from the local outdoor market, and destroying a child's birthday celebration by raiding and eating all of the cake, is something all will enjoy.


In addition, having Tina Fey voice the narration is a clever choice. She sets just the right tone for every scene, especially the funny ones. If you go to see "Monkey Kingdom" opening week, April 17-23, 2015, Disneynature will donate proceeds from every ticket sold to Conservation International --- so get out there and...


Opinion: See It Now!




Nobody does nature films quite like Disney, and they have proven it once again with "Monkey Kingdom", an intimate look at the toque macaques of Sri Lanka. Disneynature's intrepid crew of photographers has captured the fascinating hierarchy of these highly intelligent animals. We watch them in their day-to-day struggle to survive in the jungles of the island nation formerly known as Ceylon.


With occasionally droll narration by Tina Fey, the film focuses on a new mother, Maya, and her baby son Kip. Maya's legacy means she is one of the lower-rung monkeys, the ones who feed at the bottom of trees where the fruit is less succulent, and the sun is not always available to provide warmth.


Other females in the 50-member group of macaques, called the "troop", are considered the bourgeoisie who sleep and eat at the tops of the trees. The nasty red-faced "sisters" bare their fangs when they are annoyed by the playful young macaques who bother them, and Maya is regarded as inferior. Plus every troop has an alpha male who leads them, but even his position is not always secure.


When rival monkeys take over the macaques' habitat known as Castle Rock, a 1000-year-old ruin, Maya's street smarts help the troop to survive as they venture into an urban area where they steal food from humans. Eventually they return to their home and retake Castle Rock.


Typical of Disneynature films, "Monkey Kingdom" features a variety of wild life, including elephants, a leopard, parrots, flying termites, a playful mongoose, and a seven-foot monitor lizard that threatens to eat them. There is even an inquisitive dog they encounter in the city.


Veteran Disneynature co-directors Mark Linfield ("Chimpanzee", "Earth") and Alastair Fothergill ("Chimpanzee", "Earth", "African Cats") are the geniuses behind this production. It's a wondrous way for the whole family to spend 81 minutes. And most importantly, part of your ticket purchase during opening week goes to protecting this endangered species.


Opinion: See It Now!