Secret Zoo

Young lawyer-man has a chance to get out of his inferior internship and into a real position, and all he has to do is make a go of a client’s newly acquired zoo. One catch? When he arrives, all the big draw animals are being carted off, and he has no way to get any new ones within his deadline. Solution? Have the ragtag bunch of remaining employees dress up as the animals to draw customers to the park.

That’s what we would’ve called high-concept back in the day.

Judging the sloth.

“High concept” back in the day also meant you were high whenyou came up with it.

This is a cute ensemble comedy of mostly TV actors—nobody I know—which begins with an absurd premise, goes off on a more absurd spike, but always treats the characters with respect.

The idea for costumes is floated when the crew is drunk, and the young lawyer is scared by a stuffed lion. They find a movie effects guy—a twitchy old dude—who assures them it can all be done: lions, tigers, giraffes…dinosaurs… They pass on the dinosaurs and the first actual costume the guy makes is a giant sloth. (The lazy girl gets to wear that, though it’s much harder hanging on trees than it looks.) The ugly guy with the crush on the sloth girl gets the gorilla suit. The vet ends up with a lion outfit. And the old guy who used to own the zoo (and who “ruined it into the ground”, which I wasn’t sure was a translation error or a joke) ends up being the polar bear.

They’re bad at it, of course, but they get better with time. This allows for a lot of good sight gags.

Beats Dr. Doolittle.

The polar bear is pivotal.

The turning point comes when the lawyer, who’s been running the show from the comfort of the control room, has to spend the day in the polar bear suit because the old man is not well enough. Well, sure enough he gets ridiculously hot and uncomfortable and he runs out of water. Koreans (in this movie) think its funny to pelt him with Coca-Cola so when he thinks nobody’s looking, he chugs it down.

But of course, someone is looking and video taping, and sure enough the Coke-drinking-polar-bear goes viral. This (temporarily) saves the park but you can see the other problems it might (and does) raise.

In other words, it’s a kind of screwball comedy. But there’s room in there for the lawyer to develop feelings for the doctor, and the gorilla-guy to console the sloth-girl when her jerk of a boyfriend dumps her, and for the old guy to get a little redemption in, too. The lawyer ends up with the real moral crisis.

Tormenting caged animals seems particularly degenerate.

I would like to believe that the trash-throwing thing is just for the movie but I wouldn’t be shocked if it were true.

It’s nice. I’ve realized in the past three or so years that a lot of these movies aren’t as great as they seem to me at the moment, except in that moment. But it reminds me that we used to see (and enjoy) movies like this all the time out of Hollywood. And this is not a movie that could be made now in this country. Think about it:

The cast would have to be diverse, of course. But then there’d be implications about what race went into what costume. You’d have to have a black person, for example, but you couldn’t put them in the gorilla suit. You probably couldn’t put them in the sloth outfit, either. You couldn’t put a hispanic in the sloth costume, given stereotypes there. And then the simple love story of the not-so-handsome guy who is strong and stable and dependable and thereby wins a cuter girl? Even to the point of carrying her when she’s tired and burned out? That’s problematic. Then you gotta wonder if the animal rights people would complain (they would) about demeaning animals or cultural appropriation, maybe even.

It’s exhausting just to think about, but you know they do, and that’s probably why American product seems so exhausted. But I guess as long as we have Chinese and Korean movies to fall back on, we’ll be okay.

Sweatier, too.

More exhausting than wearing giant fur costumes all day.

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