Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Reheated Turd -- Reflections on "The Zookeeper" (2011)

Watching The Zookeeper sort of feels like this for 100 minutes.
On the most recent episode of South Park, Stan is at the doctor's office because suddenly his favorite music is starting to sound like shit -- literally. The doctor decides to run a test in which he shows Stan two pictures, one of a turd in a microwave oven, and the other of an ad for Kevin James' new comedy The Zookeeper.

Doctor: "Which one is the ad for The Zookeeper?"

Stan: "They both look the same?"

Doctor: "You don't see any difference in the pictures?"

Stan: "No."

Doctor: (holding up one picture of a turd in a microwave) "That is an ad for The Zookeeper and (holding up the other picture) that is a turd about to be reheated."

Stan: "They both look like turds about to be reheated to me."

I couldn't have said it any better myself.

The Zookeeper is the latest in a long line of lame entertainments geared towards children that is neither appropriate for children or acceptable for adults. It is a gross, offensive, sexist, and simply awful movie -- if you want to call it that. I think it's more accurate to call it a turd in a microwave. We've seen this crap before, from Eddie Murphy's lame Dr. Doolittle to -- most recently -- the Night at the Museum movies with Ben Stiller.

Basics: Griffin Keyes (Kevin James) is a schmuck who happens to be an exceptional zookeeper. When the woman who rejected his marriage proposal five years earlier returns to his life, he discovers a group of surprising allies in the form of talking zoo animals. The animals, afraid Griffin -- their favorite zookeeper -- will leave the zoo, decide to reveal they can speak in order to help him become the alpha male and win his unrequited lover's heart. There's also a storyline about another zookeeper named Kate (Rosario Dawson) who loves Griffin, and another about a zookeeper named Shane (Donnie Wahlberg) who likes to torture the animals. If you can't figure out how this movie ends based on this bare bones summary, then this is the movie for you.

Talking Animals Suck: I have never seen a live-action movie about talking animals that I like. The best animal movie ever was The Incredible Journey, and guess what? Those animals didn't talk! The animals in this movie, aided by CGI lip movements, feel like bad ventriloquist dummies voiced by Sylvester Stallone, Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler and Cher. The reason animated animals are better is simple: the animators have control over the facial expressions of the animals. In this movie, the animals' lips move, but there is nothing else there, destroying the illusion. How could director Frank Coraci not realize this at some point? Oh, wait, I forgot. Frank Coraci is also responsible for directing other reheated turds like Around the World in 80 Days and Click (to be fair, he did direct The Wedding Singer, but that movie's success was due more to Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler's chemistry than Coraci's mediocre direction).

Ken Jeong is Officially Annoying: Jeong, who was one of the standouts in The Hangover and is one of the best parts of NBC's awesome comedy Community, has been in three of the worst films this summer. Transformers, Hangover II, and now The Zookeeper. In each he plays a variation on the same role -- a smarmy, perverted misanthrope whose only job is to gross out the audience, whether it be with his penis in The Hangover, or an inappropriate hair sniffing in this film. I have become tired of his schtick, and now find him significantly more annoying than Rob Schneider -- which I never thought possible.

I Feel Sorry for Kids These Days: It seems that if a family movie doesn't come from Pixar, it isn't any good. So many "kids" film seem to have premises that are perfect for kids, but with execution that feels more adult. The Zookeeper should be a fun movie about a zookeeper who spends time getting to know the talking animals. Instead, it's a movie about an idiot getting relationship advice from other idiots disguised as animals. Does a kids' movie really need to be about adult relationships? Of the five screenwriters attached to this movie, which one said "Y'know, I just know the kids'll dig this movie about a man trying to overcome a 5-year depression after being dumped by a woman as he proposes to her; that's something they can all relate to." Instead of developing the zoo animals, which are the only characters the kids can actually relate to (since they're in captivity all day), this movie makes them annoying caricatures based on the simplest understanding of each beast's characteristics. I wish Coraci and company had spent some time watching Nick Park's ingenious Creature Comforts before filming. It may have saved this picture.

It would be easy just to dismiss The Zookeeper as a bad movie. It was worse than bad, though -- it was flat out unpleasant. Every moment felt insincere and forced, from the over-the-top marriage proposal (somehow done on a zookeeper's salary) to the blatant shilling for TGI Fridays to the insanely cliched ending. This film is insulting, making the assumption that families don't deserve better. They do. Much better.

About the only cliche The Zookeeper doesn't touch upon is a monkey throwing turds at someone. It's only at the end of the film, as the blooper reel rolls with the credits, that you realize a turd did indeed get thrown -- the one you just spent $10 to see.

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