A lot is made of critical movie reviews that lack the understanding of a movie’s specific audience. For example, how can an adult give a valid review of a children’s movie like this summer’s Zookeeper, starring Kevin James? Adults are cynical and we think we know everything; we’ve lost that wonder that made childhood such a great time. Movie critics, especially during the summer months are blasted for holding all genres of films to the same standard. It is hard to compare a summer action blockbuster or a goofy comedy to an Oscar caliber film. While Zookeeper is a kid’s movie through and through, that does not mean that it gets a pass.
Zookeeper is the story of well-meaning, but socially awkward Griffin Keyes (played by Kevin James) and his attempts to reunite with his ex-girlfriend, Stephanie (played by Leslie Bibb). Given the superficial world we live in, insert your own punch line here. To that point, Griffin is great at his job as the head zookeeper at the Franklin Park Zoo, and the animals all appreciate his efforts. Zookeeper takes a plot turn when it is revealed that the animals at the Franklin Park Zoo can actually talk, have always been able to talk, but have a rule to never talk to humans. Sensing that Griffin may choose to leave his job to impress Stephanie, the animals decide to help him win her over by offering him their “advice on how to attract a mate.” After all, who would know this primal skill better than animals? At least that is what the writers of Zookeeper want you to believe.
Most of the laughs in Zookeeper came from Kevin James falling down or being in some state of general distress. Look out for some high flying antics as Griffin attends his brother’s wedding. The wedding scene in Zookeeper is the scene to look for if that is your brand of humor. James does not do a bad job with the role, nor is it particularly good. He is just playing what has become the Kevin James character: a clumsy, but kind-hearted guy in a profession you would not ordinarily think of. The remainder of the human cast does a decent job with their roles. Rosario Dawson’s character, Kate, another zookeeper who may or may not be a rival for Griffin’s affections, is a nice addition to the cast. Comedian Ken Jeong (Knocked Up, The Hangover) is in Zookeeper in another role where he plays his character from television’s Community. Although I am a fan of the show, this act is starting to get stale. Fortunately, he is only in a few scenes in Zookeeper.
Rather, the biggest casting problems were the animal voices that each sounded out of place. As such, the voice performances for the animals were some of the weakest parts of Zookeeper; Nick Nolte voicing a gorilla? Sylvester Stallone and Cher voicing a pair of lions? The dishonorable mention for the worst was Adam Sandler’s turn as a monkey with an irritating voice that stopped being funny around the turn of the century. One of my goals as a writer is to one day use that phrase in context, so thank you Zookeeper.
The script is generally safe for kids, though there are a handful of one-liners that may go over their heads. Nothing said is particularly explicit or offensive, though some of Zookeeper may be a bit gross for the adults in the audience (hint: animal excretion). As far as the story goes, there is not much in the way of surprises. Chances are, if you are reading this you can pretty much figure out how Zookeeper is going to end. To sum it up, it is hard to write about something when there is not much to say; then again as adults, we know it all.
With its PG rating, Zookeeper is definitely one for the kids, and should be looked at as such. I have tried to look back and remember if this is the kind of movie I would have enjoyed as a kid. From that perspective, Zookeeper offers talking animals and slapstick humor, which is a good mix for the younger demographic.
Overall, Zookeeper is a movie that children will enjoy far more than adults, yet even the most cynical adult will find a couple of laughs here and there sprinkled throughout this juvenile movie.
Rated PG. Runtime 104 min. Theatrical release 7/8/2011.
PR.com Rating: C-