If a movie has talking & singing animals, I’m pretty much going to see it. If a film has ties to my hometown of Buffalo, NY, I’m definitely going to show my support. If a film is a comedy involving some form of love triangle, I’m going to see the film. Lucky for me, Zookeeper, the new Happy Madison production, starring Kevin James, contains each of these elements and more.
The zoo animals are terrific and are voiced by: Nick Nolte (Bernie the Gorilla), Adam Sandler (Donald the Monkey), Sylvester Stallone (Joe the Lion), Cher (Janet the Lioness), Jon Favreau (Jerome the Bear), Faizon Love (Bruce the Bear), Maya Rudolph (Mollie the Giraffe) and Bas Rutten (Sebastian the Wolf). Don Rickles (Frog) and Jim Breur (Crow) also make cameos in the film. Obviously they speak throughout, but if you stick around for the credits you get treated to the animals rendition of Boston’s More than a feeling.
Nick Bakay, from Buffalo, NY, co-wrote the screenplay with Rock Reuben and Kevin James, all from “King Of Queens” fame as well as Jay Scherick and David Ronn, who have numerous comedy writing credits between them.
As for the love triangle, well it’s one the main plots in the film. Griffin Keyes (James) is a Zookeeper, and is shown as being the best-darned Zookeeper around. He’s shown as compassionate, respectful and even empathetic to the animals. He talks with them as if they are his peers, and speaks freely from his heart while in their company. This ties in very nicely to his shy, cautious and timid demeanor. The animals try helping him get the girl of his dreams, Stephanie, played by Leslie Bibb. These scenes are very funny, in both a traditional comedic manner as well as in a National Geographic sense.
The film opens up with Griffin and Stephanie, riding horseback on a beach. Griffin was ready to propose. He went to elaborate lengths setting this up, ensuring it was perfect. He spared no expense, including a message in a bottle, a Mariachi band and fireworks. The scene was set up nicely. In addition to showing Griffin’s sincerity and devotion to Stephanie, we also get our first look at the shallowness of her character, as she tells him she could never be with a Zookeeper.
The film jumps forward five years into the future. Griffin seems like a different man from the one we saw getting dumped on the beach. We see his devotion and dedication to the animals and to his job. This all unwinds though, as Stephanie comes back into the picture. Griffin’s brother is getting married and they invited her and in the process throw Griffin into relapse. We find out he’s not over her. He finds out that Stephanie thinks he has potential. So for the rest of the movie he does what it takes to win her back. To do this he has to “change” everything about himself. He has to give up his passions and conform to hers.
There’s another guy in the picture as well, Gale, played by Joe Rogan. Gale is also trying to win Stephanie back and the scenes between James and Rogan are pretty entertaining, including verbal assault, oneupsmanship and a particularly humorous race/duel that takes place on bicycles.
As Griffin is competing with Gale, he is taking advice from the animals. I won’t spoil the comedy but as I previously mentioned, there are some really funny moments here. One of the tactics he’s taught is to make Stephanie jealous. To do this he begs his boss, Kate (Rosario Dawson), to attend the wedding with him. From this point forward the love triangle is no longer Griffin-Stephanie-Gale, but becomes Griffin-Stephanie, Stephanie-Gale, Griffin-Kate, Stephanie-Griffin, Griffin-Kate. I don’t feel I’m ruining anything for anyone by pointing this out, as anyone could see the adherence to the triangle structure. The direction of plot was apparent from the get-go, but the path taken within the structure is definitely a funny one that you’ll want to see. Some of the highlights are an Ostrich ride, a King-Kong moment, flying through a ballroom a la Cirque Du Soleil, and a scene involving a 300lb Gorilla sporting a polo shirt in TGI Fridays.
The film does what it intended to do, and that’s provide a comedy that the whole family can enjoy. It has touching moments, friendship, betrayal, love, cruelty, revenge. It also has the deeper thematic meanings of identity, reflection and purpose, and the meaning behind what constitutes family. The film’s humor ranges from slapstick to family-oriented, from incongruity to jokes intended for adults but masked so the kids wouldn’t understand the point.
While the film is predictable, it knows it is and that doesn’t bother it one bit. It follows the archetypal plot to the letter, never really trying to deceive the audience or coerce their emotions in any specific direction. But as is typically the case for any love-interest centered comedy, you want the guy to get the right girl at the end. You want an uplifting, happy ending and that’s what Zookeeper gives you. If it were any other way you’d feel a sense of disappointment.
Zookeeper isn’t going to win any academy awards. The acting is believable, which is huge for a comedy. Families will enjoy the movie and the kids will love the animals. Seeing Zookeeper is a win-win as far as comedies go, well worth the price of admission.