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ZOOKEEPER

About The Production
"I have two kids and we go to the zoo all the time – their expectation is they're going to be able to communicate with the animals,” says producer Todd Garner, explaining the project's genesis. "So the idea was to make a movie about animals teaching a zookeeper how to find love. Our goal was to create an idea where all the fantasies of the children in all of us could come true.” "

This role was made for Kevin James,” says director Frank Coraci. "I've been watching him for years and he's always made me laugh, on ‘The King of Queens' and in Hitch, in Chuck and Larry and in Paul Blart: Mall Cop. He's sort of a little bit Jackie Gleason, a little bit of Jimmy Stewart, but he makes it his own – loveable, very original comedy. He reaches all ages across the board, so I think this movie is his kind of movie.”

Kevin James, who co-wrote, produced, and stars in the film, plays a zookeeper at a crossroads in his life. "Griffin takes a lot of pride in his job, but after flaming out in his latest relationship, he thinks he's got to make a clean break and move on. But the animals think he's the best zookeeper they've ever had – they can't risk losing him. So that's when they reveal they can talk – it's risky for them, because things tend not to go well for them when people know they can talk, but they're in dire straits. They have no other choice.”

Once the script was written, the filmmakers were able to attract a truly all-star cast of comedy voices to play the animals. "We were incredibly fortunate to get the voice cast that we have. Adam got on board first to play the monkey – and now, I can't imagine anybody else playing that part,” says Coraci.

"Adam is so talented, he could have voiced any animal in this movie, but I can't think of a better match than the monkey,” says co-screenwriter Nick Bakay. "The monkey is one of our best animal actors – it did incredible faces and exhibits tons of personality, just like Adam.”

Cher joins the film as the zoo's lovely and loving lioness, with Sylvester Stallone as the king of the jungle himself. Nick Nolte plays Bernie, the gruff gorilla, who becomes an unlikely friend to Griffin. The voice cast also includes Judd Apatow as Barry the elephant; Jim Breuer as a neighborhood crow; Jon Favreau and Faizon Love as Jerome and Bruce, a pair of quarreling grizzly bears; Richie Minervini as an ostrich; Maya Rudolph as a Mollie the giraffe; and UFC fighter Bas Rutten as Sebastian the wolf.

On camera, the filmmakers have also assembled a cast of equally strong actors. Rosario Dawson plays a veterinarian and eagle expert, the object of Griffin's affections. Leslie Bibb plays Griffin's ex-girlfriend, the one who broke his heart and sets in motion his plan to leave the zoo. Ken Jeong delivers another memorable performance as Venom, the reptile expert.

In her role, Dawson got to work closely with Sydney, the eagle. "It gave me a lot of respect and awe for her power,” says Dawson. "I was fascinated by watching her and playing with her, watching the little spot in her chest where she hides food, how long her legs are, how strong her claws are. Seeing that, I could imagine why my character loves what she does so much.”

Bibb says, "My character, Stephanie – she's a little crazy. She's what you might call a hot mess. She's not the nicest girl – she's kind of selfish with a real sense of entitlement. It's kind of fun to walk in those shoes – and since she works in fashion, believe me, they are beautiful shoes. She has a great wardrobe.”

To coordinate the animals, the filmmakers turned to Mark Forbes of Birds & Animals Unlimited. Forbes was able to use his extensive contacts to locate the exotic animals, which have been trained to be part of a film production. "All the animals that we used in this film were born in captivity and have been trained from a very young age,” explains Forbes. "They all have set experience. They've all been around all the lights, the cameras, and all the people. All of our activity on set is monitored by American Humane. We found the animals from all over the country – the bears came from Utah, the lions came from L.A.”

"It was very important to us to use live animals in this movie. With real animals, you get unpredictability and realism that would be missing if you animated them in CG,” says Garner. "The comedy in this movie depends upon spontaneity, and there are so many moments when the animals did things we couldn't have predicted, and our writing team was able to write to those moments. It added so much to the movie.”

One animal was not real: to create Bernie, the gorilla – who becomes Griffin's unlikely best friend – the filmmakers turned to Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. to create an animatronic gorilla that could show off his dance skills at TGI Friday's.

The film was shot on location at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, Massachusetts. "We shot Paul Blart: Mall Cop in Boston and it was such a great experience that we always thought we'd come back,” says Garner. "We just didn't know we'd come back right away! But when we were scouting, we realized that Franklin Park had everything we needed, including a perfect area to build our zoo.”

"The best part about designing a zoo for a movie is that you can create your own vision,” says Coraci. "Each animal has an iconic enclosure – the bears in a North American mining town; the elephants in Indian temples and overgrown vines; the monkey has a Balinese island and a little sandy beach; the lions, the Serengeti; the giraffe, Timbuktu.”

Coraci helms the project. "He directed some of my favorite Adam Sandler comedies – we were very excited to have him,” says James. "He always gets the comedy and always makes me laugh, but he captures the heart, too.” James is currently re-teaming with Coraci on his next project, Here Comes the Boom, which Columbia Pictures will release next summer.

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