Talking animals suck

Monkeys take another bite of our intellect and wallets

There’s probably no Hollywood genre that combines commercial genius with creative idiocy quite like talking animal movies. The profit side of the equation is pretty simple: Nine of these films have raked in more than $100 million at the box office. Leaden dialogue sprinkled liberally with scatological humour which would be seen for the piffle it is if spoken by humans supposedly becomes comic gold when coming from a gorilla lion or bear.

As is often the case however this attempt at alchemy fails miserably in Zookeeper ; as is also generally the case the impact on its bottom line will probably be limited. Young children may still chuckle but adults accompanying them — hopefully none are foolish enough to go on their own initiative — are in for an ordeal.

There’s certainly little to hold anyone’s interest in the film’s performances. Kevin James may be credited with portraying one Griffin Keyes — the eponymous character — but he’s really just reprising The King of Queens’ Doug Heffernan the lovable loser who’s served as the template for most of his subsequent performances.

To give credit where it’s due this is one aspect of Zookeeper that could have been worse. Familiar though James’ shtick may be Griffin’s still a relatively likeable and occasionally funny character. This wouldn’t be true of his fellow zookeeper Shane (Donnie Wahlberg) ex-girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb) and tough guy Gale (Joe Rogan) — Griffin’s rival for Stephanie’s heart — if they were fleshed out enough to be real characters. Rosario Dawson — who plays another zookeeper named Kate — is charming but has little to work with.

The film’s plot is equally snooze-worthy. Stephanie turns down Griffin’s proposal which makes sense because she’s stiff and superficial and whatever his appeal to her is it’s clearly not his looks. Jumping ahead five years the film finds Griffin determined to win her back. Although they have little in common she’s attractive and well-connected. His animal charges in turn decide to reveal their hitherto concealed ability to talk and help him with this quest because…well there wouldn’t really be a movie otherwise.

But then there isn’t really a movie anyway so much as a collection of often head-scratching scenes haphazardly strung together. “WTF?” is the only real response to Griffin inexplicably imitating a robot at a wedding or riding a tricycle or to Stephanie suggesting when the two of them briefly reunite they go to an “absinthe tasting.” It’s not a huge surprise to learn the film had five writers.

All of this of course might seem besides the point. It’s a safe bet that the makers of Zookeeper weren’t motivated by a desire for critical acclaim and it’s unthinkable anyone would go to a film like this expecting great cinema. So as long as the talking animals deliver the goods does anything else really matter?

The answer is “yes” because while they’re funnier than anything else the animals are still only sporadically amusing. There’s humour in Bernie (Nick Nolte) a gruff gorilla slow dancing with a woman at a bar or the entire group of animals trying to order pizza from their enclosure. Adam Sandler’s excitable monkey who argues that throwing excrement is the solution to everything may amuse some (none of the other animals really make an impression). But the jokes miss more often than they hit and even then they’re often followed by the realization “I can’t believe I laughed at that.”

“I can’t believe I paid for that” will probably also be on the minds of many moviegoers upon exiting the theatre but pay they will. Only those who made this film though will get their fair share of laughs all the way to the bank.