VAFF Review: ‘Secret Zoo’ is a great idea that falls a little flat

How do you save a zoo when you have no animals? ‘Secret Zoo”s answer to that central question – let’s dress up as animals and pretend – would be ideal fare for Edgar Wright or Shinichiro Ueda to turn into a heartfelt, zany adventure that builds to a glorious climax. Unfortunately, even though it’s a great concept with moments of brilliant execution, the frequent drops in pace serve just to tantalizingly dangle what might have been.

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Seeking to elevate himself to lawyer status after too long being a lowly clerk, Kang is given sole responsibility for rekindling a failed zoo, with the reward for success a substantial promotion. It seems straightforward initially, with Kang full of positivity at his huge chance to achieve his dream, but there’s a slight hitch – almost all the animals have been taken as part of the park’s debt.

As Kang acquaints himself with the remaining despondent staff, every manner of solution is found to be useless. That is, until a fateful night with a stuffed tiger, and a meeting with a costume designer who badly needs the money. The best part of this kind of comedy is the moment when the ensemble goes all-in to achieve their crazy idea, and ‘Secret Zoo‘ initially shows some promise, but it soon slows again.

There just seems to be a lack of consistent energy overall. The cast is good enough, but there’s none of the zany desperation that adds so much flavour to a concept like this. The scenes where the group perform as animals is often laugh-out-loud funny, but the film doesn’t capitalize on these moments.

Instead, it will pump the brakes for some human drama – either a disgruntled boyfriend, or Kang’s ongoing wrestling with his challenge, or the old zoo director’s continued reminders that he failed them all in the first place. For all its interesting ideas, ‘Secret Zoo‘ too often commits the cardinal sin for a comedy – it becomes a little boring.

To be fair, there is an entertaining race at the end to convince the highest of higher-ups in a final bid to retain the zoo, but it then slips again into a tonally bland conclusion that just lets the previous feeling of satisfaction evaporate. It’s a shame, because ‘Secret Zoo‘ has some very good points about the importance of conservation, and of experiencing wildlife, but it gets lost in the pacing.

If you can forget about the madcap nature of the film’s trailer, and reset your expectations for a nice, gentle comedy that hits many right notes, then ‘Secret Zoo‘ is still definitely worth your time. You just might be disappointed that the film doesn’t match the craziness of its idea.