Monday, July 2, 2018

ZOO: SAVING PRIVATE ELEPHANT

By José Alberto Hermosillo

“Zoo” poster. Photo Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films / Copyright © 2017 Jacks Film Co.Ltd

A delightful family drama based on an incredible true story of a boy on a journey to save a baby elephant from the Bellevue Zoo in Belfast, Irland, just at the beginning of World War II. This film is a hidden gem!

“Zoo.” Photo Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films / Copyright © 2017 Jacks Film Co.Ltd

Young actor Art Parkinson is quite a revelation in this movie. He plays the twelve-year-old boy Tom Hall with charm and charisma in front of the camera. During his free time, Tom joins his father, the veterinarian headman, in his daily routine at the zoo. The convalescent baby elephant is in a special care unit.

“Zoo.” Photo Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films / Copyright © 2017 Jacks Film Co.Ltd

When Tom and his father visit the baby elephant, the little creature instantly connects with the boy.

Inspired by the great American actor and comedian Buster Keaton (“The General,” 1926), Tom names the elephant “Buster.” 

“Zoo.” Photo Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films / Copyright © 2017 Jacks Film Co.Ltd

In school, Tom gets bullied by his classmates. Regardless of the unfriendly environment, he finds some allies. Among them are a friendly, silent girl, a tall, chubby boy with his “little brother,” and a long-standing lady with an infinite love for animals.

Tom’s father leaves the zoo and his family to fight in the war. Thousands of people died in Ireland during the two bombings executed by Germans.

During the WWII raids, the authorities ordered the killing of all the zoo animals in case they escaped and endangered public safety. 

Tom quickly learns that the same fate could happen to Buster, and he will do whatever it takes to save the elephant’s life.

Zoo poster  Photo Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films / Copyright © 2017 Jacks Film Co.Ltd

Regarding story structure, “Zoo” runs a little slow. The screenplay overstates every character’s refusal of the call way too much, creating an enormous barrier to the piece’s harmonious flow.

This film needed a melodic orchestration to make the story unfold smoothly. Like in the classic works centered on children of the visionary filmmakers Alfonso Cuarón’s “A Little Princess” or Agnieszka Holland’s “The Secret Garden.”   


“Zoo” distances itself from other European productions from the same period, such as “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” a much more obscure film set in Poland with a bigger budget


Straightforward, warm, and affectionate, “Zoo” focuses on loyalty and friendship. This war movie with children leaves everlasting recollections in the viewer’s memory.

Another stunning war film that leaves a similar response is the French production “A Bag of Marbles.” It recounts the journey of two Jewish brothers escaping the Nazi invasion in Paris. 

The Italian Oscar© winner “Life is Beautiful” is a heartfelt story of a boy and his father inside a concentration camp during the Holocaust. 

Also, “The Book Thief.” It tells the story of an intelligent and brave girl who brings books to read to a Jewish refugee hidden in her step-parents’ basement.


“Zoo” is an adaptation of an article published in an Irish newspaper that led an exhaustive investigation to find Denise Austin, the eccentric lady who, in real life, saved the elephant while working at the zoo. For her heroic action, she was named the “elephant angel.”

“Zoo.” Photo Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films / Copyright © 2017 Jacks Film Co.Ltd

Ironically, in this film, Mrs. Austin, played by the actress Penelope Wilton, has only a small part as a friendly neighbor and an animal lover. She has nothing to do with the zoo but plenty to do with the elephant.

“Zoo.” Photo Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films / Copyright © 2017 Jacks Film Co.Ltd

Director Colin McIvor’s surprisingly well-made first feature continues a tradition of excellence in Irish Cinema.

“Zoo” has some dynamically written fine lines, delivered by a group of terrific actors who portray unique and diverse characters in this moving family drama.

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