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Family Movie Review: Zoo (PG)

Kernel Rating: whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernal (3 out of 5)

MPAA Rating: PG        Length: 98 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 10+. The film, “inspired by true events,” is about a group of children in Belfast, Ireland, during World War II who decide to save the elephant from a local zoo so it is not preemptively “destroyed,” or killed, by the British government in case bombings cause its escape. Because of the WWII setting, the film has some bombing-related scenes that may be scary for young viewers; there are explosions, fires, destruction, and loud noises; characters are injured and killed during these bombings, and characters who died in World War I are discussed; and children are shown wearing gas masks and conducting bombing-related drills in school. Some bullying, including rude words and some cursing; two boys develop crushes on the same girl; some bathroom humor, both human- and elephant-focused; adults drink to excess; and a traumatizing scene where the protagonist sees the British government sending soldiers to kill a number of animals in the local zoo, including some that the movie had already introduced to viewers in an affectionate way (you hear the gunshots and see soldiers raising their weapons).

‘Zoo’ tells the heart-warming real-life story of a group of Irish children who decided to save and hide a young elephant during World War II. The movie has good intentions and will be entertaining for animal-loving tweens, but it makes some frustrating missteps.

By Roxana Hadadi

Zoo ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewBaby elephants are inarguably some of the cutest beings on Earth, and the film “Zoo” knows this. This family film about a group of children in Belfast, Ireland, during World War II who decide to save a young elephant from the zoo after they fear that the British government will order its death deals with heavy topics—the violence of the war, the anxiety of the time, the stresses upon the working-class—but the adorableness of that elephant coupled with the film’s good intentions go a long way.

Based on a true story and filmed on location in Belfast (described as a “small industrial city” at that time), “Zoo” focuses on protagonist Tom (Art Parkinson), a loner whose closest friends are the animals cared for by his veterinarian father at the local Bellevue Zoological Gardens. He knows the flamingos, the lions, the hyenas, and the giraffes, and he’s overjoyed when the zoo welcomes a young elephant who had been previously mistreated. Naming the elephant Buster after his favorite comedian, Buster Keaton, Tom is heavily involved in the animal’s care and becomes as attached to it as he is to the zoo’s other residents.

But the war is getting worse, and its effects come down hard on the family: Tom’s father is sent to war, his mother is a nurse who sees the wounded all day, and Tom is no longer welcome at the zoo by its owner or by the new veterinarian trainee because his father no longer works there. Lonely and upset, Tom is shocked when he learns that Buster could be in danger—so he decides to break him out and hide him.

Tom’s plan attracts new friends who volunteer to help, including the sad-eyed but hopeful Jane (Emily Flain), who lives alone with her alcoholic father, and the former bully Pete (Ian O’Reilly), who is incredibly protective of his disabled brother, Mickey (James Stockdale). Can their plan work? And if they get Buster out, then what?

“Zoo” isn’t particularly engaging visually—there is no real fancy cinematography here, although the bombing scenes are quite jarring—but for young animal lovers, the film will be a joy not only because of Buster (played by the elephant Nellie, who is quite adorable) but because of the other creatures on display, such as owls, hedgehogs, and flamingos. And the dialogue, while sometimes clichéd, is believable, capturing Tom’s shock at the new veterinarian’s behavior (“The only thing you can shoot is poor, defenseless animals!”) and Jane’s excitement at having friends.

There are a few frustrating things here, too, like a character whose death adds nothing to the story and narration from an adult Tom that is unnecessary and distracting. But “Zoo” mostly makes the right choices, and its story will be engaging and inspirational for tween viewers.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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