The Belfast Blitz is the backdrop of Colin McIvor's Zoo which was inspired by try events. Tom (Art Parkinson) handles narration explaining how the German raids over Belfast meant something different to him than others. Shift to the city port for the offloading of a special crate that contained a baby elephant for the zoo. The highlight of the opening segment follows as the townsfolk march following the new arrival and zoo staff through town and up the hill to the zoo. The public can't enter but Tom slips in as his dad is the vet at the facility. The war comes closer leading to the first bombing of Belfast. The government authorities determine that the predatory animals could be a threat if they escaped leading the military to shot them down. Tom seeing that Buster the Elephant could be next springs a plot to free him accompanied by his classmate Jane (Emily Fan) and Pete (Ian O'Reilly).
Director Chris McIvor pulls his story from the pages of history. Tom Hall hatched the plan believing that his father who had been called up to the war would have stopped the shootings at the zoo that he was not strong enough to do. The youngsters turned to the towns cat lady Denise Austin (Penelope Wilton) who is the central historical figure in this event having photos in the cities archive of the real Sheila the elephant and her in her backyard. McIvor includes themes of value to a young audience such as treating animals with respect., Standing up to bullies and a common thread at TIFF 18' drop all preconceived notions.
Art Parkinson runs with the lead youth role building his team to rescue Buster the elephant from the Zoo. Emily Fan has the complicated role of a 12-year-old girl with the abusive town drunk as a dad and no mum in the picture. The third member of the youthful trio Pete portrayed by Ian O'Reilly pals around with the school bully beating up kids that are different at school while secretly caring for his disabled brother. Toby Jones is the biggest name in the cast as Charlie the security guard. He occupies the hut at the Zoo entrance is strict on admission but at the moment of truth chooses the right thing to do. Penelope Wilton gives a multifaceted performance as Mrs. Austin. At first glimpse, she is the crazy woman in town with way too many animals in her flat. But deep down she is very aware of her surroundings still grieving from a loss she suffered years before.
Zoo is the telling of a little-known event that helped to build the morale of the town at the time when its citizens were put to the ultimate test. Director McIvor and his effects and sound teams do fine work bringing the sensation of the Belfast bombings to the screen. the young leads inject comedy and a sense of purpose and duty that goes beyond the character of may adults in the film. It's a historical event that is worth a watch.
*** Out of 4
Zoo | Colin McIvor | Ireland/UK | 2017 | 97 Minutes.
Tags: Bellevue Zoo, Belfast, Air Raid, Gas Mask, WWII, Elephant, Tiger, Giraffe, Bomb Shelter, Letters, Bully,