‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ Viewer Advisory

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There are lots of adorable animals in the World War II drama “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” but how do those animals fare?

SPOILERS

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Sadly, most of the animals don’t make it. The zoo in Poland is bombed and many animals are killed, while a few escape. Nazis kill more animals, although some are promised safe refuge at the Berlin Zoo. According to IGN, we feel the deaths of these furry creatures more intensely than the plight of the Jewish people Jessica Chastain’s character hides. And, sadly, no Nazis are eaten by lions.

Review excerpts:

Time Out: “There’s a bunny that should win an Oscar.” (Rating = 3 out of 5 stars)

“As Holocaust-era movies go (Chastain’s maternal saint begins to secretly hide Jews in her cellar), this one is neither too pretty nor too ugly—which might doom it to a particularly banal shade of detachment. Chastain is relaxed with some actual lion cubs, and there’s a bunny that should win an Oscar. But when the film pivots to the scared human beings down below, you get a hint of the weirder, tougher drama it might have been.

IGN (Rating = 5.8/”Mediocre”)

The most affecting moment in Niki Caro’s ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ occurs early on, as the Nazis invade Poland in September 1939. The audience sees this moment as it affects Antonina Żabińska (Jessica Chastain), her family, and their zoo. Bombs fall, some animals are killed, others are set free, and the place is severely damaged. The impacts of the bombs are felt, not just through the bass, but as animals lie there, forever gone.

To this point in ‘Zookeeper’s Wife,’ the film has given almost equal weight to the animals as it has Antonina; her husband, Jan (Johan Heldenbergh); and their son, Ryszard (played first by Timothy Radford and later in the film by Val Maloku). The destruction wrought upon the zoo is something palpably felt in the audience, but it is a weight and an upset that the film never succeeds in reaching again.

Screen It: (5 out of 10)

We know Chastain’s character is a caring soul (as evidenced by saving the life of a newborn elephant and watching in horror as the Nazis kill her beloved animals) … but we never really know her.

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Rating = C-

I was so looking forward to seeing a lion devour a member of the Gestapo in ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife.’ But it was not to be…

Early in the film, it’s humorous to see camels, monkeys and zebras wandering the 1930s Polish city after the Nazis inadvertently bomb the zoo. But the presence of the animals only figures in the narrative as a way to show the cruelty of the Nazis when they occasionally execute the odd cantankerous elephant…

One might assume from the title of the movie and the fact that the couple owns and operates a zoo that the care and feeding of these animals will somehow work its way into the story. But it really doesn’t.

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