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Friday, August 2, 2013

Movie Review: Zookeeper

I wanted to like this movie.  Really, I did!  How often does a movie about a zookeeper actually make the big screen?  I knew that this was going to be a comedy, not a documentary.  Still, I hoped that it would have the potential to get a few folks in the audience at least thinking about zoos.  (At the very least, I'd hoped it would be funny).

I saw this movie in theaters with a few zoo coworkers.  Within five minutes, we were trading barbs with one another about the movie.  Five minutes after that, we'd given up.  It wasn't the factual mistakes about the animals ("Porcupines don't shoot quills!") - I mean, how factual are you going to get in a movie that costars Adam Sandler as the voice of a poop-flinging monkey?  It wasn't the ridiculous portrayal of the profession - yeah, I've totally carried a choking but still very much alive full-grown lioness around a zoo.  It just wasn't a funny movie.  I hate to say it, but even with the addition of bears, lions, and elephants, when you've seen on Kevin James movie, you kind of have seen them all.

I did find the portrayal of zookeepers in the movie interesting.  In some ways, Kevin James' character was a reasonably accurate depiction of the personality of a zookeeper: devoted to their animals (one of the better scenes shows James setting up enrichment to try and cheer up a lonely gorilla), struggling with the low pay and dirty work (the reason that the love of his life rejects his marriage proposal at the film's beginning), and trying to overcome the stagnation in his career.  On the other hand, I was annoyed by the inclusion of a sadist bad-guy keeper who doesn't care about or like the animals and who openly torments them.  People like this, I think we all know, don't flock to the zookeeping field.  Having such a character, when so few zookeepers are portrayed in film as it is, is a disappointment.  As a former reptile keeper, I also take exception to the obligatory creeper reptile keeper (they named him "Fang" for God's sake...).

The biggest tragedy of the film was the animal factor.  The giraffe used in filming died on set.  The elephant had reportedly been abused in the past by her trainer.  These allegations led to some negative publicity for the film, which never had much good publicity to begin with.  Better no zookeeper movies, I feel, than one that creates a negative image for the profession.

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