That’s what makes the presence of Kevin James so crucial. Without him, this is an eye-rolling slog for adults. But with him, while it may not elevate the material to something worthy for grown-ups, it makes the family moviegoing experience an enjoyable rather than excruciating one for parents. James’ skill as a physical comedian is hilarious at any age, and his endearing awkwardness gives adults someone to actually care about.

Of course you can’t fill 90+ minutes of movie with just gags; unfortunately, the fleshing out of the peripheral plot threads follows formulaic lines. Griffin deserves better than his ex who is an elitist snob, and his competition for her is an equally arrogant jerk. Meanwhile there’s a beautiful co-worker at the zoo (Rosario Dawson, Unstoppable) who could be Griffin’s soul-mate. The story goes through the standard machinations of avoiding the obvious choices before Griffin sees the light and eventually makes them.

Efforts at heart-tugging are made a bit more effectively in the friendship between Griffin and the zoo’s quarantined gorilla. People fear he’s violent when in actuality he’s just misunderstood; a likeable old softy with a strong moral character. That friendship is tested as Griffin is pulled between the place that he loves and the woman who would tempt him away from it.

Through all of these perfunctory narratives, lessons are learned about loyalty, honesty, trust, and not holding on to bitterness, as well as the important adage to stay true to who you are and not betraying that for what others want you to be (especially those who only care about themselves). That, and never take dating advice from an animal.

Zookeeper is a disposable, even forgettable, entry into the Cineplex, and is at best worthy of a rental. But with live-action PG-entertainments being rare as they are, it remains a welcome diversion for families that—aside from mild romantic references (phrases like “making out”, discussions of wooing and attracting females, etc.)—will make most parents feel at ease with bringing their pups and cubs of any age.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Alcohol is served and consumed at a party, but not prominent and no drunkenness.
  • Language/Profanity: The world “hell” is used as a profanity three times. A use of the word “freakin’!” Childish insults are used against people, with the intent to hurt, and the hero James sometimes engages in it.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: Occasional discussions/tips about wooing and attracting the opposite sex. One of the zoo employees is kind of creepy (but silly and harmless) as he flirts with women on a couple of occasions. A mild flirtation of “freckle chest” is used. James tries to “seduce” his ex, but played for comedy. The phrase “we make out—hard” is used. A hip-hop song with the lyrics “booty hit the floor” is heard prominently in one scene. A brief kiss.
  • Violence: James is suddenly “stabbed” twice in the face by porcupine needles. Some comical fisticuffs. Men threaten violence toward each other on a couple of occasions. At one point, James’ character hits a bully and knocks him into a wall, even though it’s unprovoked at the moment and not done in self-defense (some might see it as endorsing the idea of punching/fighting mean people, but it’s basically cartoonish).
  • Other: The monkey recommends “throwing poop.” A dog briefly licks its genitals. A wolf pees on a tree, at length, and James follows suit—outdoors, at the zoo, and is seen doing that by two women.