Everybody knows that talking-animal movies are really about the human condition. Marmaduke, Cats & Dogs, Yogi Bear... they all reflect human personalities filtered through the lens of silly animal stereotypes. They're like a kind of heightened reality. Or maybe they just celebrate our all-too-human masochism.
Bored celebrities do silly voices and pick up a quick paycheck, while the uncanny-valley animals move their weirdly anthropomorphic lips and make their weird pseudo-creature faces. It's like a lobotomized coprophiliac version of Avatar. But what do you get when you combine the talking-animal movie with a by-the-numbers Adam Sandler romantic comedy?
For one thing, you get a hell paradigm — two brain-scrapingly terrible genres are mashed up into one ultimate torment of the soul. For another thing, though, you get a commentary on how ridiculous evolutionary biology can get, and how dumb it is to try and speculate on "natural" mating behavior. Mostly, though, you get pain. And we shall call it... Zookeeper. Spoilers ahead.
I didn't actually realize that Zookeeper was an Adam Sandler joint until I was watching the horrendous "animals singing along to classic rock" end credits, and saw his name listed as a producer. And then the whole thing made a sort of nauseating sense. Because Zookeeper has all the hallmarks of a dreadful Sandlerian romcom, such as 50 First Dates or Just Go With It. At its basis, it's a very simple story of a shlubby guy who's into a girl who's out of his league, and you know he's going to end up with his nerdy best friend who just happens to look like a supermodel. But meanwhile, there are a lot of pee jokes and slapstick.
Do you actually want a plot synopsis? Okay then. In Zookeeper, Kevin James (Paul Blart: Mall Cop) is a zookeeper named Griffin. He's still stuck on the girl who dumped him five years ago, Stephanie. But she wanted him to become a yuppie, and he's mostly happy being a zookeeper and stuff. Until one day she comes back into his life, and he realizes that he still wants her, but he's hopeless at winning her over. And then it turns out the animals in the zoo can all talk — because all animals, everywhere, can talk. And the animals decide to help Griffin win over Stephanie, so he won't have to leave his job at the zoo to impress her.
Here's the "hilarious" scene where all the zoo animals have a covert meeting to discuss helping Griffin get laid, and as a bonus you can see all the celebrities who were somehow blackmailed into being in this thing:
At first, the animals try to help Griffin win his beloved through wacky stunts, like having the lions pretend they're going to eat her so Griffin can save her. But these things all backfire because Griffin is a shlub. So the animals are forced to break their biggest rule, and reveal to Griffin that they can talk. (The movie doesn't even really bother with suspension of disbelief — once the animals start talking, it's impossible to believe that we wouldn't all know they could talk all along.) So the animals start coaching Griffin on how to impress a female, and it turns into a seminar in animal mating behaviors — which, when applied to a human, start to seem very much like the ways that people talk about evolutionary biology.
Griffin is encouraged to become an Alpha Male, to pee in public to mark his territory. (There is a lot of urination.) The Adam Sandler-voiced monkey tells him to fling poop. At various times, his mating seminar starts to seem like an episode of the Pick-Up Artist, as a lion tells him to throw some negs. He's encouraged to pick fights with competing males, to separate his desired mate from the pack, and to make his nerdy-but-gorgeous best friend pretend to be his girlfriend to make Stephanie jealous. There is much slapstick involving Griffin attempting to do a frog confrontation stance and making his pants split open.
Eventually, though, it starts to work — Griffin, implausibly, becomes an Alpha Male and everybody admires him. He becomes a kind of super-yuppie and God among ordinary shlubs. And it's at this point that the film achieves a kind of misanthropic perfection, exploring the idea that we're all basically vicious animals whose ruthless mating behaviors reflect a more general nastiness. The success of Griffin's strategy to achieve economic success and the most prized mate — by peeing in public — proves that Hobbes was right, and we're all nasty and brutish. And kind of dumb, too.
You already hate yourself — or else why would you be watching this movie? So it's not that much of a leap towards hating the entire human race.
And here is the true genius of Zookeeper. Most "talking animal" films use the animals as caricatures of different types of humans. The cats are bitchy white ladies, and so on. (If you want a particularly painful example, here is a clip from Space Buddies, a "talking dogs in space" movie)
But Zookeeper does the reverse — the talking animals in the film represent actual animals, but they illuminate the truth of human nature. By casting off his artificial shackles of civilized behavior, and learning to fling poop like the Adam Sandler-monkey — at least metaphorically — the Paul Blart guy learns to embrace his inner animal to gain power and unlimited sexual conquest.
Will the Paul Blart guy hang on to his supermodel girlfriend and his yuppie-shark lifestyle, or will he revert to being the "real" him? Will you really care? By the time you find out the answer, you've probably already slit your wrists after gazing into the abyss of human awfulness. We lie, we cheat, we eat fatty foods, we ride little girls' tricycles at unsafe speeds. We choose to watch tragically unfunny Adam Sandler-produced romantic comedies with contrived premises that are intended to distract from how formulaic it all is. We are the monsters. We are the pants-shredders, the rampaging feral beasts whose lips move weirdly when we wisecrack. This movie will not get you laid if you bring your desired mate to it — if anything, it will reveal how your attempts to get laid are a giant cosmic fart joke.
Oh, and allegedly they killed a giraffe and abused some elephants while making this movie. Allegedly. Let's hope it's not true — in any case, the movie's already guilty of cruelty to audience members.