It’s hard to believe that a story with such mammoth proportions, like the one told here in ‘Zoo’ isn’t already more well known. Set in Belfast, during the German air raid bombings of World War II this historic drama focuses on the bond between boy and beast as local lad Tom fights to protect Buster the elephant during this dangerous and unpredictable time. Brought to the screen by a predominately Northern Irish and Irish cast with a little help from Toby Jones & Penelope Wilton could this local legend become a big screen success?
The overall narrative here is absolutely nuts and as I’ve already mentioned I was amazed not to have heard about it before, it’s the type of story I would imagine Belfast to have been shouting about for years but nonetheless it’s flown under my radar…we must have gotten distracted by that famous ship that was built here or something. The film is a family adventure style outing with elements of the heist genre about it initially coming across as rather twee and potentially hard to stomach. Furthermore, I thought there needed to be more of a relationship developed between Tom and Buster in the first act of the film as whilst the subsequent drama is serviceable it could have been far more effective had a stronger friendship been showcased between the on screen pair. However, despite the somewhat unconvincing opening the film quickly progresses into a really delightfully told story. It’s surprisingly emotional towards the end and it holds with it a lovely cross generational wartime spirit of bravery and team work.
The cast both young and old do a good job of bringing this stories characters to life. The introduction of some supporting characters, specifically on screen brothers Pete (Ian O’Reilly) and Mickey (James Stockdale) give a particular uplift to the pace of the narrative. The humour that the script injects to the story upon their arrival is a welcome addition to the film and their delivery of their more comedic dialogue and chemistry is vital to this elements success. In addition to this, and while some are most definitely better than others, the majority of the casts’ attempts at the Belfast accent are pretty decent, they at least aren’t distracting from the drama which can always be a potential issue. All in all the film boasts a charming ensemble of performers who all convey their characters with enthusiasm and passion for this story.
‘Zoo’ is a charming celebration of a wartime story that’s potentially been lost in the grander narrative of this historic period until now. It’s wonderful to see the story being given the attention it deserves and the care and execution that has been exhibited in its production is clear to see. Whilst it struggles in its early stages it quickly becomes a joyous watch as the charismatic cast tell this lovely story in such and endearing manner. I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t see a sweeter film all year.
Written by Hamish Calvert
Rating – 7.5/10
Question: What is your favourite film set in Northern Ireland?
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