Once upon a time, animated princess movies were populated by passive heroines waiting to be rescued by noble but bland princes. Disney has made strides toward addressing this anachronism, giving us, among other notable efforts, Mulan (1998), which features a different kind of female lead, one whose strength, cleverness and courage â€” not her looks or brawny boyfriend â€” save the day. Of course, the company has long relied on female protagonists of every stripe, dating back to its first animated feature, Snow White, and running the gamut through Bambi, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and on and on. Rival studio Pixar, on the other hand, has never featured a girl or woman in a lead role â€” until now. […]
Animals have more acute senses than people do and an entirely different way of looking at things, so it stands to reason that audiences have been lapping up talking animal stories since that snake was introduced in the first act of Genesis. Hollywood really pricked up its ears back in â€™98, when the Dr. Dolittle remake starring Eddie Murphy became the highest grossing live-action film ever made in the genre. Thatâ€™s when the industry started tossing them out like so many chew-toys: the Babe sequel, Stuart Little, Narniaâ€¦ and that doesnâ€™t even count animation.
Now, along comes Zookeeper, which has more than a few things in common with the good Doctor: a depressed animal that needs tender loving care, a know-it-all beast that dispenses good advice when necessary, a really annoying creature that talks too much, and a likable human being — in this case played by Kevin James — who has less success with his own species than he does with his furry friends. Dr. Dolittle and Zookeeper both go for the laughs, but both also play as wish-fulfillment for the odd duck within us all — the one that craves a little primal understanding when we donâ€™t quite fit in. […]