For 90-minutes, Zookeeper runs on about talking animals and obvious relationships. It even has an interlude at TGI Fridays, this after the talking gorilla asks if their food is amazing (thought: gorillas like TGI Fridays… contemplate). Then, after all of that insufferable Hollywood shlock, it happens.
Kevin James love interest is about to leave for Nairobi, when he’s swept up with romantic inspiration and begins the mad dash supposedly to the airport, but thankfully it ends on a bridge instead. At least this miserable topping avoids “the run” cliché in its entirety. This is dangerously close though.
It’s difficult to pinpoint who this is for. Obviously, its marketing allegiances indicate a child’s farce that cost more money to make than should be legal. Through some weird corporate entanglements or maybe Kevin James’ fee is too high, Zookeeper becomes less about keeping a zoo than it does romanticism, awful, banal, forced romanticism.
It would be easy to forgive Zookeeper’s sins if it were more like that TGI Fridays scene; that’s sort of the expectation. James manages to sneak out the isolated gorilla for a night on the town, convincing people it’s just a costume (ironic that it is, although Tom Woodruff Jr.’s suit work is impeccable) and leading into a wild happy hour. On its own, it’s admittedly funny, the antics lively while the surrealism of it all adds to the charm. In context, South Park’s parody was right: insert a farting sound where each gag should be.
This movie honestly hones in on a character who takes his relationship advice from a talking wolf, a wolf that convinces James to take a leak during a fancy dinner party to mark territory. This guy isn’t a romantic hopeful, he’s a failure and a nimrod. Why are we rooting for this guy? Because he’s fat and quirky? Zookeeper plays up that angle, although so does every Kevin James comedy.
James is tremendously talented, physical, and a joy at his best. On King of Queens alongside Jerry Stiller, he had comedy gold brewing each episode. Saddled next to Ken “I need to be in every comedy ever” Jeong, it’s a grasp at straws which are then snapped when the animals talk. Quite honestly, Zookeeper didn’t even need the critters. During segments like a painfully derivative dance-off, they’re all but forgotten. James deserves better.
You know what makes Zookeeper more intolerable than it already is? Color. Oh, color, how we miss you. The correction phase has turned what probably should be a bouncy, breezy kids fantasy into something that looks Ted Turner colorized it. The level of orange in this film is putrid and there’s not a zoo in existence that owns this many teal lights. Actually, there’s not a city on the planet that owns this many teal lights. It seems this mess is trying to appeal to modern audiences in the most corporate, uncreative means possible: make it look like everything else and they’ll come.
Not helping is the rather dull outing from the usually reliable Panavision Genesis, muddying medium shots to the point of processing the detail right out of them. Without knowing better, the easy assumption is a thick, fat layer of DNR has been pasted onto this on, although that’s clearly not the case. Some detail escapes, stuff like a handful of close-ups that appease the fidelity hound, and even an animal shot or two that impress. The rest is just mud, struggling to find its paces or any sensibility of true hi-def beyond its obvious resolution.
Zookeeper will go a few rounds with some mild noise, enough to be a distracting, unwanted background element. Certainly the flip-flopping black levels don’t help, dimming when they’re needed most at night, crushing a tad in the open daylight. Either way, they’re not especially acceptable. This is at least a bright movie, that not in reference to the intelligence level just in case that’s taken the wrong way. Contrasty is a popular look, even if takes some of the zip from those zoo aerials and exteriors. Trees scattered about the zoo’s layout have a hot, blown out vibe that doesn’t really gel with nature, not that much does here.
Diving in to come away with anything positive, the work on the gorilla suit is immediately apparent in HD, each one of those hairs striking and defined more often than not. There are no major anomalies either, stuff like aliasing and ringing refreshingly absent. At least something good came out of this one.
Talk about boring, and yes, we’re past the movie. This DTS-HD mix has no vividness or life, just a limp and a whimper. The animals never call out or chatter from the directionals despite surrounding James on multiple occasions. Dialogue makes itself comfy in the center where it will stay.
Parties, which seems to be the only place James ends up outside of the zoo, have no energy. Even the music pops in the stereos without much of a noticeable bleed, the menagerie of ’80s hits for familiarity given great fidelity, not so great mixing. A fly (yes, fly) fashion show, with all of its guests and obnoxious techno doesn’t even enter into the equation of x+y=4/5 (where x is fidelity, y is expected surround use, and 4/5 being the likely score). It’s more like x-y=
Extras are typically drawn out, as if it’s some type of torture game for those of us who take the bullet reviewing a home release like this. Eight mercifully deleted scenes will sap nearly 12-minutes of your life, although since the movie was already around 106… Anyway, follow that up with some mild bloopers for six minutes (some repeated from the end credits), and then a nice piece on Bernie the Gorilla. This goes into the complexity of suit work and why they didn’t just use CGI.
Cast of Zookeeper is just an ego booster, while Creating the Visual Effects splits into three sections. They all feature a running commentary over incomplete/completed footage. Behind the Stunts looks at some of the bumps taken by James himself, and Furry Co-stars is (duh?) about the animals. Be the Bear shows some of the training techniques before James hops in for an imitation. Trailers, MovieIQ, and Sony’s usual BD-Live portal remain.