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KIDS ON FILM

Getting Their Monkey's Worth

March 24, 1994|LYNN SMITH | Lynn Smith is a staff writer for The Times' View section.

In "Monkey Trouble," Eva, a girl whose parents won't let her have a pet, secretly harbors a runaway monkey, learns it has been trained as a burglar and tries to reform its behavior before the nefarious owner (Harvey Keitel) catches up with them and her parents find out. (Rated PG)

It's been months since Ryan Chase, 11, and Taylor Jeffs, 10, have seen a kid's movie they liked. This one was "pretty good," Taylor concluded with some surprise. He said the plot was easy to follow, there were ample chase scenes and enough humorous characters--particularly the monkey.

But make no mistake: This isn't a movie for "kids of all ages"; it really is a movie specifically for kids. It zeros in on their world from their perspective. The girl lives with her mother, her stepfather and an initially despised new baby boy. She sees her dad on weekends; her room is a mess; she prefers TV to homework and has a "best friend" who has 25 other best friends. And to boot, her parents think she is lying when she isn't.

The monkey earned "ahhhhhs" from the audience. He is a basically good monkey who, even if he needs a little potty training, can grasp the difference between right and wrong.

"I liked it when she was teaching him how to go to the bathroom," said Kevin Druffel-Rodriguez, 9.

Younger kids cracked up over a monkey in a diaper.

"The monkey was very cute," said 6-year-old Alexa Paolella, who went right home afterward to praise the movie to her friends on a computer service bulletin board. "My favorite part was when the baby started to talk and help Eva."

We should also mention a nice educational touch. In one scene, Eva takes the highly anthropomorphic monkey to the library, where they conduct research to learn about his particular breed and their social life. Looking at her own blended family, Eva concludes they are not too much different.

The film is kids' comedy that parents can basically relax over, even if they doze off in the middle. At 95 minutes, it seems longer. (As the gold-toothed villainous Gypsy, Harvey Keitel still sports some facial tattoos, but "Monkey Trouble" isn't "The Piano.")

The one exception, a scene where the cute monkey brandishes a handgun and shoots at the villain, made some parents nervous. But that of course is exactly what some kids liked the most. The audience broke out in applause.

"The gun was the funniest part," Ryan said. "Like a monkey would do that. That just made it funny."

Taylor liked the traditional car chase, in which a trailer becomes unhitched and heads for a park.

The boys said they see about five movies a month and said they were glad to see more kids' movies coming out, even though this one ranked far below their all-time favorites, "Home Alone" and "Jurassic Park."

Still, they said, it was better than another recent kids' comedy, "Blank Check."

"The story was more clear about what the plot was," Taylor said.

"This was a lot more funny," Ryan said.

Taylor said the commercials for the movie had spoiled some of the best parts for him, but still there were some surprises.

"I thought it was just about a girl and a monkey," he said. "I didn't know it was about any other characters."

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