If you could talk to animals, I mean really talk with animals, what would you say? Are you one of those people who like to commiserate with their cat or burden their dog with their troubles or woes? Well, Griffin Keyes (Kevin James) lead zookeeper of the Franklin Park Zoo is. He shares all his problems with his animal friends. But when the woman (Leslie Bibb) who dumped him five years ago shows up, hinting that she may have made a mistake, his animal charges step up and break the code, for once instead of just listening they talk back.

The premise for ZOOKEEPERS is based on the idea of what kind of dating advice would an animal give. Just because an animal can talk doesn’t mean that their advice will be any good and this is the dilemma for Griffin Keyes. Do you pee on trees, puff up your cheeks, mark your territory and give your best roar, or do you reach out and listen to your human counterparts and hope that they’ll have a better advice?

Kevin James in Zookeeper movie

Stephanie is back in town to attend the wedding of Griffin’s brother. She has just broken up with her boyfriend (Joe Rogan) and seeing Griffin again she remembers how sweet and kind he was, a quality that her most recent boyfriend sorely lacks. But right before Griffin can ask her out, she reunites with her boyfriend and he and Griffin become romantic rivals. Competitive, vain and extremely athletic Joe Rogan’s Gale appears to be the better man. In weakness Griffin listens to his animal friends and displays some behaviors that are less than human. The surprise is, some of them work.

Using a combination of live animals and CGI, the animal stars of Zookeeper are full of personality. We’ve come a long way from putting peanut butter on the lips of horses to give the illusion of conversation. But the problem with Zookeeper is that as good as the animal actors are there are still scenes where the animals could not perform together. They would act their parts separately and then using movie magic they would be spliced together. This gives the appearance that the animals are in the same place but like the actors who voice them all the acting is done separately and apart from each other. This impacts the comedic timing and makes things feel slightly off.

I really enjoyed Kevin James and especially liked the chemistry he has with fellow zoo employee Rosario Dawson. Their scenes are sweet and at times very sexy. It was also fun to see Donnie Wahlberg in a small role playing an abusive colleague that eventually sends Griffin over the edge with gorilla rage. But overall the film felt compartmentalized. Each segment on its own worked fine but when put together it doesn’t quite mesh. Good comedy is as much about rhythm and timing as it is about funny dialogue and prat falls. For me the film was full of starts and stops, and things that should have been funny fell flat.

As a family film the kids will really like this one. There is enough there for the adults to enjoy. But for a film about wild animals this movie feels very tame. I would have liked some better dialogue and some sharper jokes, but Kevin James nails the physical comedy perfectly. Ken Jeong also appears as a reptilian reptile expert. He and Crystal the monkey must have the same agent.

One of the more funny segments of the film is when Griffin sneaks Bernie the Gorilla out of the zoo to visit T.G.I.F. Fridays. Bernie the Gorilla voiced by Nick Nolte has been depressed and now that the two of them are talking Griffin has learned the source of Bernie’s depression. Falsely accused of attacking Donnie Wahlberg’s character, Bernie’s has lost his enclosure with a view. Griffin decides that a night on the town and a change of scenery will do the trick and seeing Bernie work his animal magnetism on the ladies helps Griffin too. He learns to channel his own inner beast.

This film is full of star-studded voice work with the likes of Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow, Jon Favreau, Faizon Love and Maya Rudolph to name a few. But honestly, a lot of the time they were talking over each other and stepping on each other’s lines. I think this is what lead to my sense of disjointedness because they probably didn’t record their scenes together. But kid’s won’t notice this and teenagers won’t care, they’ll be too busy quoting Donald the Monkey. The film is fun, family friendly and celebrates the gift of being human. “It is all about the thumbs” quotes Donald.

Melanie Wilson

Visit her blog a lamelbox.blogspot.com

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