Monkey Kingdom

This absorbing survey of socially complicated Sri Lankan macaques comes to us from the entity known as Disneynature, prompting a useful if perhaps ultimately unanswerable question: What is the nature of Disney? In this case, it’s a documentary division which sees Earth Day as a great marketing hook. So Monkey Kingdom is the latest fulfillment of that mandate, a chronicle of live-action animal behavior done up in the characteristically cutesy house style. Well, if you must find some animal to anthropomorphize, a close relative to homo sapiens seems like a good way to go. These are clever, agile, adaptable creatures, and quite receptive to our emotional projections — sometimes to the point of creepiness. Once past a punning pre-credits fusion of the Monkees theme with familiar orchestral heartstring music, the film tucks in nicely to its forgivably contrived narrative. Rather progressively for a movie that doesn’t even say the word “sex,” let alone show any, it’s framed as the story of a low-born female who liberates herself from social tyranny by cuckolding her resident alpha male and taking up single motherhood. Tina Fey is a good choice for the narrator, her delivery somehow both no-nonsense and gratified by silliness. Directors Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill make their combination of intimate scenes and gorgeous scenery look much easier to collect and assemble than it must have been. Minor ethical questions do linger, as the filmmakers seem to have abetted several food raids by their subjects on human homes and businesses. But the higher-level mission here, to engender fascination among young viewers, is well accomplished.