Yves BarsacqJohn HurtRik MayallMichael York
A Monkey's Tale
Also known as: Le chateau des singes
Medium: film
Year: 1999
Director: Jean-Francois Laguionie
Writer: Norman Hudis, Jean-Francois Laguionie
Keywords: animation
Country: France
Language: French, English [dub]
Actor: Tara Romer, Pierre Arditi, Michael Lonsdale, Jean Piat, Patrick Prejean, Lionel Melet, Nadia Fares, Ivanah Coppola, Janine Souchon, Bruno Choel, Yves Barsacq, Matt Hill [English], Sally Ann Marsh [English], John Hurt [English], Rik Mayall [English], Michael York [English], Michael Gambon [English], Shirley Anne Field [English], French Tickner [English], Diana Quick [English], William Vanderpuye, Paul Dobson [English]
Format: 75 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0188506/
Website category: Foreign language
Review date: 26 October 2012
It's a French animated film that I didn't like much, but it's hard to say why. The animation's lovely. The plot's perfectly normal for this kind of thing. The theme is unobjectionable and very much at the centre of the story.
I suppose it just seemed a bit obvious. Halfway through, I was looking for something else to do, as a distraction from the movie. I clock-watched.
Incidentally, I was watching the English dub. I'd have preferred the French original, but the English dub is worth a spin too. Michael Gambon, Michael York, John Hurt, Rik Mayall... I can't pretend I spotted everyone, but Mayall obviously stood out a mile (in a good way) and I thought I recognised York too. I was happy, which is saying quite a lot for an English-language dub.
The plot's about monkeys, but you knew that. A long time ago, there was a terrible flood and the monkeys split into two tribes, one in the treetops and the other on the ground. Naturally, each believes the other to be demons and savages. The treetop Woonkos are recognisably monkey-like and have a primitive social structure, which basically has a grumpy village elder telling everyone to fear the ground-dwellers. Unfortunately they also sound like Californian surfer dudes and say things like "shut up, bro". I wanted the lead character (Matt Hill) to die.
Then there are the ground-dwelling Lankoos, who in contrast sound teddibly, teddibly English. It's not all Shakespearian vowels, either. The voice cast are doing a grand tour, covering a bizarre spread of geographical regions and social classes. It's, um, interesting. I stopped noticing it after a while, though. The Lankoos are far more civilised than the Woonkos and have architecture, politics, books, machinery, mathematics, education and a monarchy. They've built a city. I'd guess their tech level is that of about a century ago, but they have some odd holes in their worldview because the movie's determined to make each side equally superstitious underneath. They live next to a massive lake, but they think it's evil because of the flood all those generations ago and so they don't use its water for drinking, swimming, fishing or sailing boats across. They don't go near it. Instead they only drink rainwater. Similarly they've never heard of snow (even though the Woonkos have) and they don't understand the phenomenon of a lake freezing over.
They also have a social taboo about covering their ears, unlike the Woonkos. Matt Hill (Woonko) ends up living with the Lankoos and occasionally shocking them with his ear-nudity, yet no one asks him to wear a hat and he never requests one.
It's all a bit worthy. The movie doesn't club you over the head with its moral, but that's only because it's not really doing anything of anything. The villain (Hurt) doesn't really do anything. He hangs around evilly, then tries to step in when the king (York) causes a power vacuum by deciding to lead many tons of men, horses and machinery out across a frozen lake. "That's a lot of weight," I thought. "Not a clever king."
It doesn't feel Disneyfied while you're watching it, but that's mostly thanks to the voice cast. Frankly I think I'd have preferred the material with a more honestly kiddified approach. The moral's so heavy-handed that it didn't work for me as an adult-friendly film. Disney could have done this with no changes. It has songs. These are rubbish, straining too hard with their presumably translated lyrics. It has a lame "Saturday morning cartoon hour" comeuppance for its villains, although I liked the bit where someone's fed their own poison. The movie immediately takes fright and tries to reassure us in dialogue that this person won't die, but I'm not so sure. The poison had been originally intended as a lethal dose, while I don't know how far we can trust the medical judgement of a monkey.
It looks good, though. I loved the watercolour backgrounds.
Further oddity: it's written by Norman Hudis. Yes, him. The Carry On bloke from the 1950s, by this point well into his seventies.
This just didn't grab me. Maybe I was in the wrong mood? It doesn't do much that's obviously wrong, but the storyline contains almost nothing that's dramatic or surprising. The romantic subplot is formulaic. I didn't quite believe in its set-up. It's never even mean-spirited, which would have been an improvement. Instead it's earnest and vanilla... except arguably in York's characterisation. He's well-meaning and idealistic, but patronising and in the end suicidally stupid. Rik Mayall occasionally amused me, though.
"I've done something useless! Does that make me civilised?"