MR ZOO: THE MISSING VIP (2020)
A silly, but occasionally fun, slapstick caper that blends Dr. Dolittle with a crime-solving buddy movie
When 2020 started with Dr. Dolittle, a ham-fisted remake of Hugh Lofting’s stories for children starring Robert Downey Jr., sat atop the Korean box-office for the second week of January, many assumed it was the only animal interaction movie to fill our screen that year.
Not so, as Mr. Zoo: The Missing VIP was waiting in the wings to add another dose of sarcastic animals teaming up with a human who can talk with them to outwit an evil foe.
In the Korean outing, we have Joo Tae-Joo (Lee Sung-Min), a neurotic and pedantic agent for The National Intelligence Service (NIS) who is assigned the job of guarding a VIP.
This VIP just happen to be a panda called Mingming, given to Korea by China as a diplomatic gift (we later learn the VIP actually stands for Very Important Panda). Mingming is stolen from under Tae-Joo's nose and as he gives chase is knocked to the floor, smashing the back of his head on some unforgiving road tarmac.
When Tae-Joo, who apparently simply hates animals, awakes in hospital he can speak with animals Dr. Dolittle-style. With his job on the line, he must work with a former military dog, named 1478, to track down the panda-nappers, save his career and repair Korea-China relations in the process.
‘Panda diplomacy’ is a legitimate term and refers to China’s use of pandas as diplomatic gifts to other countries, a practice which dates back to the Tang dynasty in 685.
Commentary on this process gets largely side-lined, as Mr Zoo instead shifts to a buddy movie between the highly strung Tae-Joo and the emotionally troubled but outwardly willing 1478.
While the film’s set-up is no sillier than many such comedies before it, the main issue is that many of the film’s laughs are a little too heavy-handed to work. For example, early in the film Tae-Joo takes a lift with a man and his pug, which leads to the dog urinating in his face for an extended period well beyond what anyone would find funny.
We double down on dog-urine gags later in the film as 1478 opts to urinate on Tae-Joo's sofa (despite being able to verbally ask to go out if he wanted).
Perhaps the film’s worst element is the CGI effects of the animals. Indeed, the effects are so poor it is difficult to establish if it is CGI at all or just very poor puppetry. In one scene in particular, as 1478 speaks to Tae-Joo from the passenger seat of a car, the dog’s moving mouth looks more like a sock puppet.
The film is not without its charms though and a highly energetic central performance from Lee Sung-Min manages to haul the film through some of its more disjoined moments. It also has Kim Seo-Hyung cast as Director Min, Tae-Joo's stern boss, and her presence always improves a film.
The comedy is highly childish, which will probably make it suitable for family viewing, but it is unlikely to find much of an audience beyond that.