Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Back in the 70s, on BBC's Animal Magic, Johnny Morris used to pretend to be an affable and slightly hapless zookeeper who talked to the animals (Morris himself doubling up on vocals). Now a similar premise is used as the basis for this virtually laugh-free family comedy, that would be better described as Animal Tragic.

Here, overweight, affable zookeeping duties fall to Kevin James as Griffin. Schlubby yet lovable, we meet him as his carefully planned beach proposal to pretentious ice maiden Stephanie (Leslie Bibb, whose acting shows as much depth as her character) goes badly awry. Apparently, and unbelievably, she is completely able to forgive his chubby shortcomings and, yet, what gets right up her Armani is the fact he works with animals. Cut to five years on and poor old Griffin is still pining for his lost love while, of course, completely failing to realise that the Girl Of His Dreams (Rosario Dawson, who is the only one who escapes this film with a shred of dignity) is sitting under his nose.

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Just as he thinks he might be turning a corner, a contrived plot device throws him back into the path of Stephanie who is, unaccountably, still attracted by his charms and who sets about trying to persuade him to leave the zoo. The animals, who think he's the best thing to come there way since free bed and board, are dismayed at the idea of him quitting, so they break their 'code of silence', revealing that they can talk, so that they can coach him in the ways of securing a mate. Ways that, if you find peeing in plant pots amusing might offer some mild humour. Otherwise, forget it.

The biggest problem here is not the predictability of the pratfalls or the constant misfiring comedy, although the fact that no fewer than five scriptwriters have failed to produce even one laugh out loud joke has an amusing irony. Rather it's the film's sheer lack of charm that proves terminal (and interminable). With the exception of Nick Nolte's comforting gruffness as a gorilla who befriends Griffin, the other voices - including Cher, Sylvester Stallone, Judd Apatow and Jon Favreau - are a terrible 'fit' for their animals. Meanwhile, the scriptwriters subsitute volume for humour, labouring under the misapprehension that if the animals yell at one another a lot it'll have us rolling in the aisles.

There are one or two glimmers of what might have been - a scene at a wedding offers some emotional oomph and suggests director Frank Coraci might have a lot more skill than he's been allowed to show here - but Zookeeper is otherwise so flat that even the most tolerant children will find it a chore. You'd be better staying at home, making up funny voices for your pets.

Reviewed on: 30 Jul 2011
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A group of zoo animals decide to break their code of silence in order to help their lovable zoo keeper find love - without opting to leave his current job for something more illustrious.
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Director: Frank Coraci

Writer: Nick Bakay, Rock Reuben, Kevin James, Jay Scherick, David Ronn

Starring: Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Ken Jeong, Donnie Wahlberg, Joe Rogan, Nat Faxon, voices of, Cher, Sylvester Stallone, Judd Apatow and Jon Favreau

Year: 2011

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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