North Korea calls President Obama a "monkey in a tropical forest" as it blames Washington for Internet outages in the country. (Reuters)

North Korea on Saturday compared President Obama to a “monkey in a tropical forest” as it blamed the administration for disrupting its Internet access amid a hacking dispute related to the movie “The Interview.”

The North Korean government has been fiercely critical of the film, a comedy involving a plot to assassinate its leader Kim Jong Un, but has denied responsibility for a recent cyberattack on Sony Pictures.

Facing a threat of terrorist attacks from hackers, and the subsequent refusal of large cinema halls to screen the movie, Sony initially canceled its release this month.

But after Obama criticized the company for caving in to pressure from North Korea, Sony released the movie Christmas Day in selected independent cinemas. It played to packed houses and took in nearly $1 million in opening-day ticket sales. Sony also made the film available online on Google’s Play service and YouTube Movies, as well as on Microsoft’s Xbox Video and a dedicated Web site — Seetheinterview.com — run by the studio.

In a statement Saturday, North Korea’s ruling body, the National Defense Commission, said Obama was “the chief culprit” for the movie’s release.

“Obama always goes reckless in words and deeds like a monkey in a tropical forest,” an unnamed spokesman for the commission said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

It wasn’t the first time North Korea has used racist language to refer to Obama or indeed used crude insults against other top U.S. and South Korean officials. In May, its official news agency called Obama a “crossbreed” and “a wicked black monkey,” while referring to South Korean President Park Geun-hye as “an old prostitute.”

In August, it called Secretary of State John F. Kerry a wolf with a “hideous lantern jaw.”

Obama had threatened retaliation against North Korea over the cyberattack on Sony, but it is not clear whether last week’s disruption of the country’s Internet access was carried out by the U.S. government or by independent hackers.

North Korea on Saturday demanded evidence that it was behind the attack on Sony, while blaming the United States for its own Internet problems.

“The United States, with its large physical size and oblivious to the shame of playing hide and seek as children with runny noses would, has begun disrupting the Internet operations of the main media outlets of our republic,” it said.

The U.S. administration, it said, had “feigned ignorance” of the attack.

Sony Pictures’ “The Interview” is more than a satire on North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. It also parodies journalists and the CIA. Post opinion writer Alyssa Rosenberg provides commentary on the film’s humorous intentions. (Jayne W. Orenstein and Alyssa Rosenberg/The Washington Post)

Earlier, it had warned that any U.S. punishment over the cyberattack on Sony would lead to retaliation “thousands of times greater.”

The United States also has requested China’s help in punishing its ally North Korea, but Beijing has appeared reluctant to get involved, condemning cyberattacks but arguing there was no proof of who was responsible for the attack on Sony

The movie has proved to be a surprise success in China, with tens of thousands of people downloading it — most illegally — within hours of it being made available online.

Many Chinese netizens left positive reviews online, even without seeing the movie, as a gesture of protest against censorship, while others appeared to enjoy the lampooning of the North Korean regime. The country’s leader is often mockingly referred to by Chinese Web users as “Fatty Kim III.”

That popular reception was something of an embarrassment for the nationalist Global Times newspaper, which had earlier accused the United States of “senseless cultural arrogance” over the movie.

On Friday, the state-owned newspaper conceded that some Chinese netizens had “criticized North Korea for lacking a sense of humor” and that they had called the movie’s release an “act of justice.”

Still, the newspaper insisted the movie’s popularity would be short-lived, saying it was “low quality.” The movie, the paper insisted, represented the West’s “distorted view of North Korea.”

Xu Jing contributed to this report.