MOVIES: 'Zookeeper,' 'Buck' and 'Winnie the Pooh'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters.
This concept must have looked better on paper or no studio executive would have green-lighted it. No one wants to make a dreadful movie -- and there was Jim Carrey's "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" precedent. But something went terribly wrong in the translation from script to screen, along with a budget that ballooned to $80 million because of the CGI talking animals.
In a prologue, Griffin Constantine Keyes (Kevin James) is a hapless Boston zookeeper whose elaborate marriage proposal to shallow supermodel Stephanie (Leslie Bibb) is rejected. Skip ahead five years to when Griffin spies Stephanie at his brother's engagement party. The animals love Griffin, who's a really nice guy, and they fear losing him. So they band together to help him win Stephanie back, even if that means breaking "the code" that forbids them from verbalizing with humans.
Acknowledging, "Every time we talk to humans, it turns out badly," the animals speak in very familiar voices. Sylvester Stallone is Joe, the lion who constantly bickers with Janet, the lioness, voiced by Cher. Among the simians, Adam Sandler is Donald, the indecipherable capuchin monkey, with Nick Nolte as Bernie, the restaurant-obsessed gorilla. There's also Don Rickles as the frog, Maya Rudolph as the giraffe, and comedy producer/director Judd Apatow as Griffin's best buddy, the elephant.
Problem is: the anthropomorphized animals don't have much that's interesting to say because the hackneyed, cliche-riddled script was patched together by Nick Bakay, Rock Reuben, Kevin James, Jay Scherick and David Ronn, based on Sherick's and Ronn's story. Best know from TV's "King of Queens" and "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," Kevin James -- aptly described as "a chaotic pile of a man" -- is obviously a better match with Kate, a kindly co-worker, played by Rosario Dawson. And director Frank Coraci ("The Water Boy," "The Wedding Singer") primarily relies on slapstick, combining live action with animation, never quite knowing when to yell "cut" to the critters.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Zookeeper" is a truly stupid 3, except for very young kids. Catch the closing credit song.
Iconic Buck Brannaman is the real-life "horse whisperer" who inspired the novel and 1968 Robert Redford film. He's a low-key, no-nonsense cowboy in the most honest sense of the term.
Cindy Meehl's documentary about charismatic Brannaman won the Audience Award at Sundance, and it's easy to understand why. Specializing in helping trainers and riders work with their thoroughbreds or cattle horses, Brannaman insists with understated eloquence that it's fundamentally wrong to use the traditional, often violent methods of fear and punishment to break in a horse. Instead, he relies on patience, compassion and perseverance. He feels that there should always be human-and-horse interaction, that co-existence is instinctive and that a horse can be a mirror of its rider, a reflection of one's soul.
At one point, soft-spoken, likable Brannaman berates the owner of an aggressive, brain-damaged 3-year-old colt, blaming the woman's own psychological problems for her horse's violent behavior, noting, "A lot of times, rather than helping people with horse problems, I'm helping horses with people problems."
Brannaman evolved his empathetic philosophy the hard way. Born in 1962 and named Dan, he was called Buckshot and, during his bleak, nightmarish childhood, performed rope tricks with his older brother, Bill, dubbed Smokie. Devastated by their mother's death, both boys were often abused and whipped by their cruel, alcoholic father. After a coach spotted Buck's wounds, he was adopted by a foster family who introduced him to caring for horses.
As a young man, Buck became a protege of famed natural-horsemanship proponent Ray Hunt, learning and, subsequently, teaching equine/human psychology.
First-time director Meehl and directors of photography Guy Mossman ("Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work") and Luke Geissbuhler ("Borat") achieve a simplistic cinematic tone that's moving but never maudlin, thanks to the astute editing of about 300 hours of footage, along with David Robbins' score. If there's any fault, it's that Meehl is too adulatory, never achieving significant psychological insight into her extraordinary subject.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Buck" is an idyllic, inspirational 8, an authentic, uplifting film.
"WINNIE THE POOH"
The enchantment of Christopher Robin's childhood days is back, as Disney animators deftly reconstruct the classic A.A. Milne characters, complete with soft, simple, pastel re-creations of England's Hundred Acre Wood, as depicted in Earnest H. Shepard's original illustrations.
Opening with Zooey Deschanel's version of the catchy Sherman Brothers' title tune, the gentle story unfolds on one eventful day, beginning with Pooh's hunger for honey upon awakening. As the narrator (John Cleese) explains, that leads him to discover that his gloomy friend Eeyore has lost his tail. Eager to help, Pooh, Tigger, Rabbit, Piglet, Owl, Kanga and Little Roo launch a contest to see who can find Eyore a new tail -- and, to Pooh's delight -- the prize will be a fresh pot of honey.
But then they're chagrined to discover that Christopher Robin has left a misspelled note, indicating he'll be "Back Son" -- which owl misunderstands -- proclaiming that poor Christopher Robin has been captured by a ferocious, fearsome creature called the Backson and, of course, all his friends must come to his rescue.
Directed by Stephan J. Anderson and Don Hall, the plot combines three Pooh tales and screenwriter Stephen Anderson adds some new scenes. The superb voice cast includes Jim Cummings, Craig Ferguson, Yom Kenny, Travis Oates, Bud Luckey, Jack Boulter, Wyatt Hall, Huell Howser and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who with her husband Bobby Lopez, contributed original ditties like, "The Backson Song" and "Everything is Honey."
Back when the first Pooh movie was in preparation, Walt Disney doubted whether audiences would sit through a full-length feature, so it was edited into a 25-minute featurette, "Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree," released in 1966. It proved so popular that "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day" followed and won the 1968 Oscar for Best Short. Pooh's last screen appearance came 34 years ago in "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh."
For preschoolers, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Winnie the Pooh" is a lovable, sweet 7. How delightful to spend time again with that silly old bear!