2011, PG, 104 min. Directed by Frank Coraci. Voices by Nick Nolte, Sylvester Stallone, Adam Sandler, Cher, Judd Apatow, Jon Favreau, Faizon Love, Maya Rudolph. Starring Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Ken Jeong.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., July 8, 2011

I’m not gonna sugarcoat this: Movies don’t have to be this bad. And go ahead, call me a killjoy, say it’s crotchety to hold films geared at kids to some critical standard. Bullshit. Kids deserve better. They deserve to have their imaginations tickled and teased, to have miraculous things projected 10 feet tall – not some guy in a gorilla suit playing wingman to Kevin James at a T.G.I. Friday’s. Actually, is this geared at kids? Because I can’t for the life of me figure how the five screenwriters it took to tap out this crapper thought kids would be interested in watching James’ sad-sack zookeeper Griffin try to woo back his mean, vapid ex-girlfriend (Bibb). Here’s the bait and switch: Griffin is coached in the ways of seduction by talking animals. (Kids love those, right?) But director Frank Coraci, whose last credit was the TV movie I’m in Hell (that setup’s way too easy), doesn’t seem remotely interested in the tactile wonder of a giraffe or a lion; the animals here, the main attractions at a second-rate New England zoo, serve merely as digitally enhanced mouthpieces for comic banter. Some of the jokes hit – and, considering the voice actors are culled mostly from comedy, I’d wager they did some in-studio rewrite-riffing (Favreau and Love, as squabbling bears, have a giggling bit about a Canadian Kodiak girlfriend, and Sandler, as some kind of marble-mouthed simian, gets points just for being the most cracked-out). But most of the jokes miss, given the film’s single, suffocating focus on how to shape Griffin into an alpha-male predator. Screenwriting 101 demands an emotional arc for the protagonist – dark times are required to earn the good times to come, sure – but Zookeeper’s team of scribes have made the crucial misstep of crafting a character utterly devoid of moral strength. And did I mention the cruel lust for revenge-taking? (Cause it’s cool to teach kids that violence, be it physical or emotional, should be met with more violence, right?) But, hey, like I said, there’s that lure of Real. Live. Animals! Oh, wait: Zookeeper’s most prominent animal character, a gorilla named Bernie, is portrayed by a combination of an animatronic ape and a dude in a suit. And you can tell. (He’s voiced by Nick Nolte, who I can only surmise was cast because the resemblance of that long-ago mugshot to a real-life gorilla was irresistible.) Look, dumb comedy’s fine if it’s, you know, smart about it. Zookeeper’s just dumb-dumb, and, more criminally, has nothing at all of magic to impart to the kids. They deserve so much more.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Zookeeper
SXSW Picks 2 Click 2008

Darcie Stevens, Feb. 29, 2008

Texas Platters
Becoming All Things (Record Review)

Greg Beets, Nov. 16, 2007

More Frank Coraci Films
America's favorite screen couple, Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, mosey through another rom-com.

Marjorie Baumgarten, May 23, 2014

Here Comes the Boom
Kevin James plays a biology teacher who moonlights as a mixed martial-arts fighter; Salma Hayek is his love interest.

Marc Savlov, Oct. 19, 2012

More by Kimberley Jones
Robot Dreams
Dog and Robot find companionship in this lovely and touching Oscar-nominated animated film

June 14, 2024

Arts, Comedy, Theatre, Movies, and More Recommended Weekend Events
Arts, Comedy, Theatre, Movies, and More Recommended Weekend Events
Jackie and Foxy Brown?! Yes please!

June 7, 2024


Zookeeper, Frank Coraci, Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Ken Jeong

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle