I fucking love monkeys. I always have. Those were my boogers smeared on every dogeared page of Curious George book at the library annex. Of course, that was when I was little. I'm a grownup now and have gotten past that. These days, H.A. Rey's books are wet with my tears, the result of knowing George has done more with his little primate life than I ever will with mine, and that I can't ever have a monkey of my own.
The government won't let me. They outlawed ordering pets through the mail from some sketchy monkey mill in Florida. No longer can you send off a check and six weeks later receive a cardboard box containing a monkey who's pissed off and stewing in his own shit. I love monkeys because they're like little people; I get pissed off when I stew in my own shit too.
My neighbor had a mail-order monkey years ago. It was a little capuchin she named Buster. She kept it in a cage that took up half her family room, and she dressed it up in little bellboy costumes. Sometimes she'd invite us kids over to feed it marshmallows while she swore at us, smoked Pall Malls and drank Old Mariner vodka from the bottle. Eventually Buster got old and chewed off one of her fingers so he had to be put down. I don't blame him for doing it, though. Pretty much every kid on the block wanted to bite his owner.
Since I'll never own a monkey I have to get my kicks elsewhere, mostly at the bottom of a case of Uva Berry Four Loko. But I still seek out monkey thrills in zoos, circuses, the many underground monkey sex shows here in Arvada, and the movie Monkey Kingdom. Side note: a lot of the so-called monkey sex shows around here don't really feature monkeys. It's just kids in furry outfits, and they aren't really having sex. The parents put nickels in the costumes and the toddlers roll around trying to get them out. I figured out the scam after only, like, five shows.
Monkey Kingdom purports to be a documentary, just like Disney's other "nature" offerings. It features footage of real macaque monkeys in Sri Lanka. They swing on vines, tumble like clowns on meth, swim for food and fight. Watching them be monkeys is by far the best thing about the movie. But Disney just can't let nature be natural. They've gotta go all Dr. Moreau until they’ve created a monster, an unholy beast with sweet, sweet primate eyes and the cold, formulaic heart of the Hollywood machine.
Monkey Kingdom is only 82 minutes and it starts with Disney congratulating itself for a few minutes. They're awfully proud of raising money for conservation by giving a token amount of ticket prices to charity through their previous "nature" efforts. They tick off acres preserved and animals saved as a result of some token amount given every time one of us jackasses pays full freight for a ticket. This is fucking nonsense. What Disney's saying is "We care so much about the environment that if you don't come see our movie we aren't gonna do shit."
Disney's gesture also ignores all the harm the Disney-industrial complex has done to the environment. Just for examples, I know I'm not the only kid who shit himself and his theater seat while watching The Black Hole. And what about that forest fire in Bambi? Do you have any idea how many acres of animated forest were destroyed?
Somewhere in Sri Lanka, a band of macaque monkeys live among the ruins. There is a class system headed by an alpha monkey and his courtesans. The other monkeys live lower in the trees and get the lesser food and crummier shelter. Disney says the king is named Raja, but that's only because that's what some asshole with a goatee in Disney's marketing department decided was regionally accurate and not subject to controversy or litigation. Actually, monkeys don't give each other names because they don't fucking talk. Even George, a curious little monkey, kept his chompers shut.
Disney has chosen a monkey they call Maya to be the hero of a story that may have happened but is more likely the product of some formula and overtime in the editing room. Anyway, she is, of course, a low-branch monkey. She has a baby with Kumar, who promptly splits the scene. Maya struggles to feed her infant, a monkey exactly as cute as baby monkeys always are. To fill their bellies she must dive into monitor lizard-infested waters and scrounge nearby human habitats.
This "nature" documentary shows the monkeys raiding a children's birthday party. But it's all staged. There are cameras positioned inside the house to capture the antics, and Disney can't resist a little cross promotion as all the kids cups are festooned with Disney characters. Those fuckers simply can’t resist enhancing nature. Apparently the monkeys just weren't monkeying around enough on their own.
Monkey Kingdom then wants us to believe there is a conflict and the monkeys we're expected to root for are kicked out of their home by a gang of mangy, scarred-up bad monkeys. Whether they are actually bad is doubtful, but the movie wants us to think so. Kumar, who has returned, and Maya rally their band and lead them to victory over the invaders. In the process, they are elevated to the leaders of the band. Maya and her baby get the best places to sleep and the best food.
Disney is so fucking tied to its narrative formula of good and evil and princesses and heros that it can't stomach when nature doesn't follow. It has crafted a documentary that doesn't want the audience to consider the welfare of any other monkeys but the ones it has anointed. The invading monkeys are ugly, so they must be bad. Never mind that they behave as nature dictates. Since Maya ends up at the top of the class system, then someone else is now at the bottom. But pay no mind to that. Apparently in Disney's nature, only the top-billed monkeys matter.
It's manipulative and gross. It assumes that audiences are so damn stupid and naive that we need simplistic stories and shitty narration to make us care. Tina Fey's crap narration doesn’t help. It's milquetoast that provides almost no factual information about primates. Instead, it sounds like the world's dullest pitch meeting for a Disney princess movie.
I've never liked Tina Fey. She's never made me laugh. Rather, she strikes me as the comedian that humorless women point to as proof that women can be funny. She's perfect for people who have an idea what is comedy is, but no idea of what's actually funny.
Before you fire off a nasty e-mail, please know I'm not saying women can't be funny. They can and are. I'm only saying Tina Fey never is. Neither are women who make fun of me. So stop it.
While the story of Monkey Kingdom is bullshit, the monkeys are genuinely awesome. And they are really monkeys, not just little people in costumes. Watching monkeys swim is cool, and seeing the babies rolling around playing is enough to make me go onto the dark net and see if someone there will trade me a monkey for a marginally functioning kidney. They deserve a better and more honest movie, though. Just like I deserve a monkey.
Two Fingers for the unnatural Monkey Kingdom.