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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
It's important to do what's right, even when that's scary or dangerous. Standing up to evil is hard but necessary. Being kind and compassionate to all the creatures of the Earth includes our fellow humans. Courage takes many forms.
Positive Role Models
Antonina is brave, strong, and complex, even in the face of cruelty and evil in Nazi-occupied Poland. Her husband, Jan, is equally courageous, putting his life on the line to save others and showing compassion to those in the greatest need of help. They're not perfect, but they consistently do the right thing when it matters, and they save both people and animals in the process. Lutz Heck presents himself as compassionate and caring but is hard and cruel underneath.
Violence & Scariness
Scenes of the many atrocities committed by the Nazis in Warsaw during WWII, including rape, assault, and murder. A girl is seen being manhandled by two guards; their assault of her isn't shown, but her bloody, beaten, traumatized appearance afterward makes it clear she was raped. The Warsaw ghetto is bombed and overrun by soldiers who don't think twice about shooting people on the streets or menacing them with guns; later, it's set on fire, with people still inside. Resistance fighters battle Nazis in the streets, with casualties on both sides. A woman briefly believes her son has been shot; her grief is shown. Children are shown boarding a train that's clearly destined for a concentration camp. In another scene, two women are executed point-blank. Frequent fear and tension. A man throws a woman on a bed and seems set on assaulting her but doesn't. Nazis casually shoot zoo animals; another sequence shows animal carcasses after the zoo is bombed. A baby elephant struggles for life early in the film.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A married couple is shown in bed; the woman's naked breasts are briefly seen. In another sequence, they kiss passionately. Other sexually charged scenes between two characters, though one interprets the situation very differently than the other. Discussion of a female animal being "in season"; she's later shown being mounted by a male bison. Both animal and human babies are born.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Frequent smoking (accurate for the era). Social/casual drinking (at parties, etc.)
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Zookeeper's Wife is an intense, sometimes-brutal drama based on the true story (which inspired Diane Ackerman's same-named book) of a couple who helped save hundreds of Warsaw Jews during World War II. Jessica Chastain stars as Antonina Zabinski, who, with her husband, Jan (Johan Heldenbergh), turned their zoo into a different kind of sanctuary during the Nazis' occupation of their city. Expect many disturbing scenes of wartime carnage and destruction -- including bombings, battles, explosions, and shootings. A teen girl is raped by Nazi soldiers (the act itself isn't shown, but viewers see her being taken away and then beaten and bloody after the fact). People are executed, animals are shot, and Jews are rounded up in the Warsaw ghetto and later placed on trains bound for concentration camps. There are many moments of tension and fear, but characters also show compassion and courage in the face of tremendous odds. While there's no strong language to worry about, characters do embrace passionately, and sex is implied (a naked breast is briefly seen). There's also a fair amount of smoking (accurate for the era) and drinking. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This story is beautifully filmed and important, but it suffers from an affliction that many period films based on a single central figure endure: No one except the main character truly comes alive. And while Chastain is captivating in the title role, even Antonina remains somewhat opaque. Her deep love for those she cares for -- both animals and people -- is quickly explained by a short scene late in the film, almost as if someone was checking off a cinematic "to do" list. Everyone else in The Zookeeper's Wife, meanwhile, feels somewhat paint-by-numbers, including both Jan and the Jewish men, women, and children to whom the Zabinskis offer sanctuary. Only one of them, Urszula (Shira Haas), has texture and complexity, and even then, we still don't really get to know her story.
The movie is strongest when it focuses on the Zabinski home and the zoo; the bond between the family and their animals is palpable from the start, when we see their son napping next to a lion cub. But outside of that relative haven, the world is hard and broken, and these sections of the film are less effective, with director Niki Caro relying on visuals we've seen before in many other films about World War II and the Holocaust. Still, The Zookeeper's Wife will likely affect viewers deeply, offering a reminder that cruelty and brutality of this magnitude once had the capability to rob humans of their empathy and, well, humanity. Thankfully it also offers the reminder that there are always bold souls who will brave the fray and fight for what's right. It's an important, and sobering, lesson to re-learn.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.