Griffin (James) is the best zookeeper the animals at the Franklin Park Zoo have ever had. But when Stephanie (Leslie Bibb), the girl who broke his heart years ago, comes back into the picture, he considers leaving the zoo. Desperate to keep him, the animals reveal that they can talk, and offer him advice on how to win her back.
James (Hitch, Grown Ups) is the kind of likeable comic actor that can draw some good-willed chuckles out of the worst material, and to his credit he fully commits himself here. While this isn’t the worst material he’s committed himself to, it’s still a disappointment.
The talking animals plot plays out like a mash-up between Dr. Doolittle and Night at the Museum. The voice cast is a starry mix, boasting Adam Sandler, Judd Apatow, Maya Rudolph, Jon Favreau, Cher, and Sylvester Stallone among others. There’s also a reclusive gorilla voiced by Nick Nolte, who Griffin takes to TGI Fridays in a slightly awkward attempt by the filmmakers to crowbar a male bonding sequence into a kids’ movie. In a grown up comedy, this scene would be at a bar with the two getting riotously drunk, rather than eating ribs and playing guitar. Admittedly, Nolte’s gravelly tones do get a couple of laughs.
The rest of the film plays out pretty much exactly how you would expect it to. There’s the usual toilet humour and slapstick as Griffin employs animal tactics to win Stephanie back. More troubling is the fact that the “treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen” play actually works with her. Then there’s the under-used Rosario Dawson (Clerks 2, Death Proof) as Kate, the eagle expert who has a crush on Griffin, although he’s not realised it. Will Griffin realise that he doesn’t need to change who he is to be happy? Will he realise that Stephanie is actually a pretty horrible person? And will he realise that Kate is the girl of his dreams?
James is likeable enough and he has a gift for physical comedy, but there’s nothing here that's particularly inventive or original, or funny for that matter. Dawson and Bibb (Iron Man, Wristcutters) are fine but it’s difficult to imagine that younger audiences won’t get bored waiting for the romantic plot to end so they can get back to the animals.
Verdict: Zookeeper attempts to pitch to both parents and kids but fails to bring anything new to the table.