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Zookeeper: Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack Review

Zookeeper (2011) movie poster Zookeeper

Theatrical Release: July 8, 2011 / Running Time: 102 Minutes / Rating: PG / Songs List

Director: Frank Coraci / Writers: Jay Scherick, David Ronn (story & screenplay); Nick Bakay, Rock Reuben, Kevin James (screenplay)

Cast: Kevin James (Griffin Keyes), Rosario Dawson (Dr. Kate Cooper), Leslie Bibb (Stephanie), Ken Jeong (Venom), Donnie Wahlberg (Shane), Joe Rogan (Gale), Nat Faxon (Dave), Tom Woodruff, Jr. (Bernie the Gorilla - Performer), Steffania De La Cruz (Robin), Nick Bakay (Franky), Jackie Sandler (TGIF Waitress), Nick Turturro (Manny), Thomas Gottschalk (Jurgen Milraux), Brandon Keener (Nimer), Bart the Bear (Jerome the Bear), Honey Bump Bear (Bruce the Bear) / Voice Cast: Nick Nolte (Bernie the Gorilla), Adam Sandler (Donald the Monkey), Sylvester Stallone (Joe the Lion), Cher (Janet the Lioness), Judd Apatow (Barry the Elephant), Jon Favreau (Jerome the Bear), Faizon Love (Bruce the Bear), Maya Rudolph (Mollie the Giraffe), Bas Rutten (Sebastian the Wolf), Don Rickles (Jim the Frog), Jim Breuer (Spike the Crow), Richie Minervini (Elmo the Ostrich), Gary Valentine (Pizza Guy)

Buy Zookeeper from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack • DVD • Blu-ray • Instant Video

Kevin James scored his first hit film as solo leading man on the PG-rated Paul Blart: Mall Cop. He followed that up as the second biggest draw of Grown Ups, one of Adam Sandler's most successful and kid-friendliest comedies.
What kind of friend and businessman would Sandler be if he didn't throw another family film vehicle in James' direction? Thus comes Zookeeper, a standard issue movie casting James in the titular role and talking animals as his co-stars.

James plays Griffin Keyes, a zookeeper at Boston's Franklin Park Zoo. That profession earns his marriage proposal a rejection in a beach prologue set five years in the past. Stephanie (Leslie Bibb), a girlfriend noticeably younger, skinnier, and prettier than he, just can't see herself with a zookeeper. In the present day, Griffin is now lead zookeeper and still single. His brother (Nat Faxon), however, is not; his engagement party at the zoo (where else?) provides an awkward reunion between Griffin and Stephanie, who's also single and sorry and seemingly interested again. But Griffin can't take a hint or make the right move, so a number of concerned individuals from his workplace decide to help him out. Here's the thing: they are the zoo animals!

In the midst of an engagement party toast, lead zookeeper Griffin Keyes (Kevin James) is stunned to see a former love. Among the zoo animals who reveal their speech powers, depressed gorilla Bernie (voiced by Nick Nolte) gets the most attention.

They speak English and with the voices of Sandler (a monkey who sounds like one of his 20th century characters), Sylvester Stallone (a lion), and Cher (his lioness), among others. Since Griffin can't even appear heroic in a scene of staged peril, the animals decide to break the code and talk to him. Each offers advice as to how Griffin can woo Stephanie better than his tough chief competition Gale (Joe Rogan). Expectedly, the rituals of wolves and bears aren't too applicable to Griffin. But they get him to mark his territory (i.e. pee) and fall into things (something no Kevin James comedy can resist).

The romance plot that drives the overlong 102-minute film will be of little interest to youngsters. It will do even less for adults, who'll figure out at the start exactly where this is headed. Hint: a second-billed Rosario Dawson, also young, skinny, and pretty, plays Kate, the zoo's compassionate veterinarian more than willing to help Griffin win Stephanie back. This love rectangle feels like it should be a subplot, but this family-less family movie chooses to make it the "A" storyline.

The obligatory animal antics offer nothing to upstage it. That material is void of magic and wit. Imagine a Night at the Museum where all of the exhibits had CG-animated mouths and did nothing but stand around, lobbing one-liners unworthy of even being called jokes. The heart of the beast fare lies with Bernie (voiced by Nick Nolte), a depressed gorilla who has had to endure a deep, lonesome enclosure after another zookeeper (an out-of-place Donnie Wahlberg) falsely accused him of an attack. Griffin and the gorilla bond, each encouraging the other in serious tones and providing some action with a slightly rowdy dinner at T.G.I. Friday's.

Griffin is so consumed with winning back Stephanie (Leslie Bibb)... ...that he's hardly noticed Dr. Kate Cooper (Rosario Dawson), the more compassionate bachelorette willing to tilt her head at him.

That random food shout-out and a soundtrack of 1970s rock establish Zookeeper as a Happy Madison production. It is not one of the company's better works, but then with the exception of Paul Blart and The Benchwarmers, none of those without Sandler in a starring role have provided all that much entertainment (and even Sandler's own vehicles aren't what they used to be). Zookeeper strikes as a particularly lazy effort because the premise ought to have written itself. And yet five credited screenwriters -- James and his Blart co-writer Nick Bakay (whose vocal cat Salem from "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" gets a haphazard homage),
their "King of Queens" collaborator Rock Reuben, and story/first draft scribes Jay Scherick and David Ronn ("Spin City" and this year's The Smurfs) -- can't wring any humor or heart from either the ordinarily appealing James or his cast mates, be they compromising live actor or CGI-enhanced visual effects.

While it wasn't hard to predict Zookeeper receiving icy reviews, the movie didn't even live up to its high financial expectations. Debuting in 3,500 theaters the week after the third Transformers and the week before the final Harry Potter, Zookeeper settled for a #3 opening. This past weekend, its domestic gross finally matched the $80 M production budget, which foreign markets also equaled. That is a respectable pull for an original live-action family film, better than Jim Carrey's Mr. Popper's Penguins and easily Happy Madison's second biggest earner not starring Sandler. But it reveals that James' draw is not the PG-equivalent of Sandler's PG-13 pull.

Though conventional and common on the surface, Zookeeper actually carries some cinema history on its back. Metro Goldwyn Mayer, better known as MGM, that once great studio that dominated Hollywood in the medium's golden age, produced this movie (a rare occurrence these days), but in the midst of bankruptcy had to pass distribution duties over to co-producer Columbia Pictures, who delayed it from its planned fall 2010 release to almost two full years after filming began. Columbia parent company Sony brought Zookeeper to DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack today. As the bolding suggests, we look at the lattermost here.

Zookeeper: Blu-ray + DVD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, French), DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Service, Latin American Spanish, Mexican Spanish)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Blu-ray Extras Subtitled in English and Spanish
Release Date: October 11, 2011
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $45.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in standalone DVD ($30.99 SRP), standalone Blu-ray ($35.99 SRP),
and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Zookeeper might not be much to watch, but that is no fault of the Blu-ray. It presents the 2.40:1 film with sharp, clear, clean, detailed picture. The visuals are blander than they have any reason to be, but that's in line with the film's overall design and nothing stands in the way of us seeing exactly what repeat Sandler director Frank Coraci wants us to. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is even more underwhelming. You'd think with a cast of wild animals, you'd at least get some interesting noises not often heard in movies. But no, the soundtrack is ordinary and, outside of the gravelly gravitas supplied by Nick Nolte, easily exchanged with any Sandler comedy.

The DVD offers a similarly satisfactory but unspectacular presentation with underlit picture and a front-driven Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack defined by licensed songs by the likes of Boston, Kansas, and Earth, Wind & Fire.

It's not a real blooper reel until a helmeted Kevin James sticks his tongue out at the camera. Don't be afraid of Bernie the Gorilla's severed animatronic head, boys and girls!

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD extras begin with a reel of eight deleted scenes (11:40). They include additional appearances by snake wrangler Venom (the ubiquitous Ken Jeong) and eye-patched vendor Franky (Nick Bakay). An extended version of Griffin trying to get the animals to talk again isn't bad, but the rest are unremarkable.

"Laughing is Contagious" (5:52) is the obligatory blooper reel, which animal unpredictability renders more entertaining than most. These primarily human outtakes differ from those shown in the film's "More Than a Feeling" end credits finale.

"Bernie the Gorilla" (7:13) explains how the gorilla is brought to life with a costumed performer and animatronic puppet head. It's an interesting piece on the movie's best effect.

Adam Sandler's goofy voice for Donald the Monkey is just one of many effects applied. Ken Jeong uses deadpan to discuss his scaly snake castmates in "The Furry Co-Stars."

"The Cast of Zookeeper" (8:30) celebrates the film's live and voice actors, with co-stars and crew singing everyone's praises and footage from both the set and the recording studio showing atmospheres of fun.

"Creating the Visual Effects" (8:43) consists of three short segments: "Making the Animals Talk", "Animal Meeting", and "Riding an Ostrich." Each deconstructs an effects-driven scene with technical commentary, raw footage, CGI demonstrations, voice actor clips, and pre-vis animatics.

Though your appetite for Zookeeper making-of featurettes has probably been met by now, "Behind the Stunts" (5:22) discusses and shows actor and stuntmen derring-do. "The Furry Co-Stars" (6:20) lets cast and crew talk about working with animals. Needless to say, sarcasm flies. "Be the Bear" (1:33) amusingly compares a real bear's training to Kevin James' similar treatment.

Either Bart or Honey Bump Bear gets an encouraging hand feeding in "Be the Bear." The DVD's main menu is comparable to the Blu-ray's, only with fixed listings and without music or animation.

The top-billed extra, touted in a front cover sticker and prominent rear billing is a playable PlayStation 3 game demo of Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, apparently the tenth entry in the multiplayer video game series. If you don't have a PS3, you obviously cannot access the demo.

Finally, for those with Internet-connected players, the Blu-ray is supposed to offer some BD-Live content, including the ability to watch the movie with Sony's movieIQ enhancement.
Trying to activate that, I was told "This function is no longer available." The dedicated section meanwhile "could not process my request" and told me to "please try again later." I did try again later and was able to access the section but none of the many Sony trailers supposedly at my disposal would stream. Oh, BD-Live!

For some reason, instead of including the disc sold on its own, Sony offers a stripped-down DVD of Zookeeper here. It holds no bonus features except ads for other Sony properties. This practice has baffled me before and I thought Sony had abandoned it since the recent Soul Surfer combo pack contained the full DVD, extras and all. Why put effort into authoring this barebones DVD when the regular disc would have done just fine? It's not to make room for a digital copy the way Warner's and Paramount's 2-disc combos do. The studio can't possibly expect future-minded customers to buy both the solo DVD and the solo Blu-ray to get all the available supplements now. But beyond that, I'm stumped as far as finding a reason to deprive combo pack customers of having supplements on both discs.

The DVD sold on its own includes the blooper reel, "Bernie the Gorilla", "The Furry Co-Stars", and all three "Creating the Visual Effects" shorts.

Both discs open with trailers for The Smurfs, Soul Surfer, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop, with the Blu-ray alone puzzlingly also promoting Blu-ray. The movie trailers are individually accessible from the Previews menu along with ones for Hachi: A Dog's Tale, and Planet 51. Zookeeper's own trailer is unfortunately a no-show.

The Blu-ray's dim menu plays a small montage of clips within the gate of a "live" zoo shot. The pared-down DVD offers static, silent menu screens, including a simplified version of the Blu-ray screen.

The Blu-ray disc generously manages to resume playback and supports bookmarks as well.

The two discs claim opposite sides of a standard side-snapped, slipcovered Blu-ray case, whose translucency Sony as usual utilizes to display more artwork. A booklet provides a couple of ads and unique codes for Sony Rewards and Zoo World 2.

Kevin James is Zookeeper.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Having enjoyed Kevin James' first solo star vehicle and been more able to acquit Happy Madison comedies than most critics, I had hopes that Zookeeper could provide charms comparable to Ben Stiller's two fun Night at the Museum movies. Those hopes were dashed by this lazy, artless affair, which displays minimal creativity both in its human and animal content. I can't even recommend this to James fans, save for those who absolutely cannot tire of him taking hits and enduring embarassment.

Sony's combo pack supplies two fine feature presentations of a movie that underserves the senses and almost an hour of okay bonus features on Blu-ray alone. Fans of the film who have gone Blu should be pleased by this release, but that seems like a pretty small audience to satisfy.

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Related Reviews:
New to Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack: The Lion King • Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Kevin James: Paul Blart: Mall Cop • Grown Ups | Produced by Adam Sandler: Bedtime Stories • Just Go With It
Night at the Museum • Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian • Yogi Bear • The Shaggy Dog (2006) • Old Dogs
Rosario Dawson: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief • Unstoppable | Leslie Bibb: Popular: Season 2
Joe Rogan: NewsRadio: The Complete Series | Directed by Frank Coraci: Around the World in 80 Days (2004)

Zookeeper Songs List (in order of use): Toto - "I'll Supply the Love", Kansas - "Carry On Wayward Son", The Axis - "Anything for You", Boston - "Smokin'", Flo Rida featuring T-Pain - "Low", EMF - "Unbelievable", Meat Loaf - "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad", Mφtley Crόe - "Kickstart My Heart", Earth, Wind & Fire - "Boogie Wonderland", Barry White - "You're the First, the Last, My Everything", Peter Blair Jazz Quartet - "Bebop Blues", Commodores - "Easy", Exile - "Kiss You All Over", Love and Rockets - "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World is Today)", K.C. & the Sunshine Band - "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty", Doctor Jay featuring J. Sabin - "So Much Class", Swayzak - "In the Car Crash", Ana Brett - "Yoga Music", Quiet Riot - "Cum On Feel the Noize", Boston and Cast - "More Than a Feeling"

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Reviewed October 11, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 Columbia Pictures, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Happy Madison Productions, and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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