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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Movie Review: Zebra in the Kitchen

When a young country boy named Chris finds out that his family is moving to the big city, he's faced with the conundrum of what to do with his beloved pet - a mountain lion named "Sunshine."  He's told to release the cat back into the wild... only to secretly sneak it into the moving van to his family's new home.  Now stuck in the city with a full-grown mountain lion on their hands, Chris and his family do the only thing they can - turn the cat over the ramshackle, decrepit city zoo.

Zebra in the Kitchen was one of my favorite movies growing up.  I almost dread watching it these days because it's so terrifically cheesy - with partying chimpanzees and bike-riding bears - that I'm afraid it'll spoil childhood memories.  Still, when I was eight or so I thought it was the best movie ever, and why wouldn't I? By that age I was already determined to be a zookeeper when I grew up (I've since become a zookeeper of course, still working on the growing up part), and this was the first movie I'd ever seen about zookeepers.

Generally, the zookeepers in the movie come off in a positive light.  Sure, their zoo is an absolute dump, but that's not their fault - the villains in the movie (and often in real life) are the penny-pinching politicians.  Apart from Chris (and Sunshine), the protagonists are the zoo staff who want desperately to help give their animals better lives.  With Sunshine miserable and unhappy in his new caged home, they invite Chris to come and help volunteer at the zoo.  What Chris does with this position of trust is spring his wild cat buddy out of jail... and let every other animal in the zoo loose as well.

As one would expect in a movie (and a kid's movie, too boot), comic relief ensues.  Animals roam around causing all sorts of trouble, but no one gets hurt.  Eventually everyone winds up back in the zoo (including Sunshine), while the townspeople, moved by the animals, work together to transform the zoo into a great new home for all the animals.  Everyone lives happily ever after, especially Chris, who grows up to become a zookeeper, taking care of Sunshine everyday.

It's such a sweet ending that I can almost forget my one major qualm with the movie.  The filmmakers missed out on the chance to teach one major lesson in this movie - wild animals like mountain lions don't make good pets.  The relationship between Chris and Sunshine is glamorized so much that I bet that, if walking out of the theater, a young boy came across an orphaned wild animal, he'd jump at the chance to take it home.  I know, I know, it's a kids movie, not meant for heavy lessons... but some lessons are best learned early.

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