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'Monkey Kingdom' is fun, visual and does some good
Scene from Disneynature's Monkey Kingdom. - photo by Doug Wright
'Monkey Kingdom' (G) 3 stars

How could I possibly resist? A film titled Monkey Kingdom with opening scenes featuring a multitude of monkeys frolicking to Hey, Hey Were the Monkees," the theme to the '60s TV show, shows a certain aplomb.

For some quirky reason, this just seemed the perfect set-up. But dont get the wrong idea. This Disney offering for Earth Day 2015 is meaty, intriguing, fun, beautifully photographed and, rather than put some off with the word educational, Ill use "enlightening."

Set in jungles that are slowly consuming the ruins of an ancient civilization, Monkey Kingdom delivers the story of a complex monkey society with a social structure not dissimilar to those we see with higher primates humans, to be specific.

Were introduced to Maya, a lower caste female in the temple troop of monkeys who lay claim to a spectacular landscape rich with fig trees, natural beauty and Castle Rock, a coveted spot for comfort and defense. I doubt the locals appreciate the spires of ancient temples protruding from the mist and jungle canopy, or the moss-covered Buddha statues sprinkled through the ruins, but the humans watching certainly do.

I mention our heroines social status because here, birth makes all the difference. And barring anything spectacular within the monkey kingdom, youre destined to live your entire life with little hope of rising. The high-born get the ripe figs in the tops of the trees, they get the cushy and secure spots on Castle Rock and they take no guff from inferiors.

Maya, however, has some real spunk and has a little fling with a suitor who tries to take on the alpha male of the troop. But it's all to no avail, leaving Maya as a single mom trying desperately to provide for her little son, Kip. Her plight folds into a larger scenario that finds the troop itself threatened by marauding invaders.

Here we get some predictable Disney delivery. Didnt we see some of these plot lines last year in "Bears"? And do all the bad guy animals have to look like Scar in "The Lion King"? Hey, Im just askin.

Still, these once-a-year offerings are fun, visually stunning and actually do some good. This year, money from the initial screenings will benefit the monkey habitats in Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Indonesia.

The bottom line? Its vintage Disneynature and well worth seeing. Tina Fey does a good job as narrator. It's rated G, which is a little surprising with some of the peril and circle-of-life moments.