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Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Zookeeper's Wife

Over the past few years, there have been a surprising number of zoo movies, some great, some... less so.  Among the later was the abominable The Zookeeper movie with Kevin James.  Far more enjoyable was the film adaptation of Yann Martel's Life of Pi.  There were also two great fantasy zoo movies: Jurassic World, which let us imagine what it would be like to be a dinosaur zookeeper (minus the running and screaming and dying) and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which lets us imagine what it would be like to be a wizard zookeeper.

Later this year, Hollywood is releasing something that we haven't see yet - a historical piece set in a zoo.  The Zookeeper's Wife is the thrilling story of a Polish couple who sheltered Jews from the Nazis during World War II... by hiding them in their zoo.  I read the book years ago, and I have to admit, animals appear much more prominently in the movie trailer than I remember from the pages, but that might just be my memory.  Or Hollywood glamouring up the story.  Either way, I'm going to see it.  

There are many fantastic stories from the history of zoos that would make excellent movies.  Yes, even though this is a human-spirit story, it's still a zoo story, and not just because the protagonists happen to work in a zoo.  After all, lots of Europeans tried to hide Jews and other refuges from the Nazis, but it was the zoo itself - its food stores, its large campus full of hiding spaces, the reputation it held in the community  - that allowed it to work as a hiding place, in this case.  To see how much more of a role the zoo plays in the story, we'll have to see the movie.

Interesting side note - much has been made of the tendency of the Nazis to loot art galleries and museums from their empire, sending the best of the spoils back to Germany.  They did the same with zoos, shipping the rarest specimens back to the Reich.  Many of the rarest, most exotic animals are earth were concentrated in Berlin, Frankfort, Hamburg, and other zoos... where they were all bombed to pieces in one fell swoop during the final days of the war.

But that's another story...

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