A slickly mounted and entertaining family adventure, the French-financed, Indian-shot, English-language “Hanuman” combines seriocomic human drama with plenty of animal action, repping a solid feature debut for wildlife documentarian Fred Fougea. Somewhat reminiscent of Disney’s “True Life Adventures” of yore, pic is somewhat out of step with current U.S. kidpic trends, but should do well as a rental item in addition to theatrical play in select territories.
Son of a famous late archaeologist, Scotsman Tom (Robert Cavanah) travels to the mountains of southern India to impede further desecration and looting of ancient temple artifacts — and to win back the local sweetheart, Anja (Tabu), he hasn’t seen since boyhood. She’s now a schoolteacher and due to be married shortly — to a rich politician (Javed Jaffrey) who’s secretly aligned with the thieving excavators. Tactless Tom quickly runs afoul of that lot, as well as the Frenchwoman (Nathalie Auffret) heading the current archaeological team.
He gains a couple of improbable allies, however, one being the hermit monk (Khalid Thiabji) who guards the temples, the other Hanou, an outcast from a red-faced monkey tribe whom Tom saves from poachers. After much intrigue — a bit complicated for viewers under 8 or so — all the monkeys unite in foiling the bad guys, saving Anja from her arranged wedlock and chasing down her unscrupulous, and now exposed, fiance.
While this habitat/antiquity-preserving collusion between man and beast may at first stretch credulity, Fougea’s deft orchestration of two trained and 50 wild monkeys — who make antic, appealing camera subjects — nicely suspends disbelief, while his brisk pacing makes the somewhat formulaic script go down easily. Cavanah’s engaging hero tops a capable human cast; fine location lensing and a big orchestral score lend notable gloss to a strong package.