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Monkey Kingdom by Harry Gregson-Williams (Review)

posted Apr 22, 2015, 1:29 PM by Kaya Savas

The Disneynature films have become an Earth Day tradition and are wonderful experiences for viewers of all ages to explore the natural world around us. The series usually sees a different composer on each film, with only Nicholas Hooper being one who composed two of the Disneynature films. For Monkey Kingdom we get a refreshing return from a composer who I consider one of my favorites, Mr. Harry Gregson-Williams. Harry has been slowly entering back into a regular routine after his sabbatical, and hearing the orchestral side of Harry for the first time in a while is a true delight.

The Disneynature films usually try and craft a story of animals’ lives in their natural habitat. Here we have the story of Maya and her newborn as they struggle to live within the social hierarchy of her group. Harry delivers a delicate and personable score that is the perfect accompaniment to a narrative where the protagonists don’t speak. Maya gets a wonderful theme that follows her throughout the score. It reminds me a bit of Harry’s work on Narnia, and here it becomes this source of life for Maya the caring mother. The score does some “mickey-mousing” as it’s necessary in a documentary like this. There is some light-hearted goofiness in the beginning, but once Maya is introduced the score matures. In fact it becomes more focused and matured as it moves along. This is not a bouncy “kids” score. Harry really crafts a journey with the music. When things become threatening such as the presence of a Jaguar or another group of monkeys coming to overtake territory, the music reflects that. I loved how emotionally invested it got me in the story. I was able to connect to the struggles, and it gives those moments of lightness a feeling of appreciation of life. To see, witness and connect with living creatures struggling and then enjoying life, it’s something special that connects us all. The score succeeds in making that connection. The final moments such as “Retaking The Rock” are actually quite thrilling, and of course we end with Maya’s theme that completes the journey.

Monkey Kingdom is not a documentary score in the sense that it’s just scoring moments in nature. Harry is crafting a genuine narrative that is poignant, touching, fun and at times thrilling. No matter what emotions are being evoked, it’s an engaging listen. Pacing and flow may be more choppy than a score for a fictional narrative, but it’s because we do have these little moments that pierce out and stand on their own. Harry even does a little spy homage for the track “Market Raid”. It’s the light-hearted stuff that is necessary in a narrative-based nature doc like this, that may interrupt the more deeper emotional flow. But in the end, once we arrive at our conclusion, you’ll have a warm smile on your face as the score slowly winds down with that gentle and beautiful theme.