A couple is taking a horseback ride on the beach as sunset. They stop when they see a bottle in the sand; the beautiful girl (Leslie Bibb) jumps down and opens it, seeing a note inside. She reads, "Will you marry me?" and turns around: the cute-yet-overweight guy (Kevin James) is on his knee with a ring, proposing. She says that it is sweet, but ...NO. She explains that it really bothers her that he is just a zookeeper for an occupation. Awkward moment, as they have to get back on the horse to ride home. As they plod along, he warns her that he hired mariachis, and they play music as they pass. He says to just ignore it, and tries in vain to get them to stop playing. And then a huge fireworks display goes off, with hearts, and again he says, "just ignore it".
Griffin (Kevin James) is at the Franklin Park zoo, in uniform as the zookeeper. He brings a big tire to the gorilla enclosure; the gorilla sits with his back to him, and won't respond. Griffin talks to him, telling him how fun the tire swing will be, and demonstrates....the tree branch breaks under his weight, and he crashes. Still no response from the gorilla. Griffin goes to visit Kate (Rosario Dawson), the eagle vet/specialist while she is in the animal hospital. The female lion is brought in with an emergency--she cannot breathe. Kate thinks she has an obstruction in her throat but cannot clear it. Griffin volunteers and sticks his hand down her throat, and finds a pop can, and pulls it out, which saves her life.
5 years later: There is an engagement party at the zoo. Griffin's brother Dave is engaged to Robin, and as Griffin gives his best-man-toast, he sees Stephanie, his ex-girlfriend, in the crowd. He gets nervous, chokes and ruins the toast. His brother assures him it is ok, and after seeing Stephanie there, offers Griffin a high-paying job at his car dealership, so that he can have the kind of job and money Stephanie wants and get her back. Griffin turns him down, saying he loves the zoo. After the zoo closes for the day, the small monkey climbs out of his enclosure, picks locks, and releases animals. They convene for a meeting, and talk about Griffin. Some of the animals overheard the offer for a job at the car dealership and are afraid he will leave. Others want to help him get the girl of his dreams, the shallow yet beautiful Stephanie. The animals talk and plans are made to help Griffin win the girl: make him look like a hero. Next day at the zoo, the lion (Sylvester Stallone's voice) gets out and is loose in the zoo when Stephanie is there. Panic ensues, and when Griffin sees this, he distracts the lion away from Stephanie, and runs and launches himself over the wall toward the lion...but doesn't quite make it. Stephanie is safe, and leaves. Griffin hears the lion speak, and freaks out, wondering "What the hell is going on here?!" and leaves.
The next day, the lion approaches Griffin and asks, "You wanna talk? Let's talk". Griffin faints. When he wakes, the elephant, monkey and other animals are all around him. The lion thanks him for saving his lioness mate (Cher), and says that now the animals would like to help him in return. They offer him tips on how to get Stephanie back, with the first being to simply ask her out. He is too nervous, and the lion promises to turn him into an alpha-male. Griffin again goes to the gorilla, Bernie (Nick Nolte) with a ball and a snack, but Bernie won't turn around. He does say, "Leave it by the door", which Griffin does.
A kid falls in the bear enclosure, and the two bears act as if they are about to eat him. Griffin goes in and shields the kids, and they get out safe. The bears are proud of Griffin and tell him he showed confidence, and that he needs to "release his inner bear" to get Stephanie. They show him how to walk and growl. Afterwards, Griffin goes to Bernie's gorilla enclosure, and finally Bernie speaks. He is depressed b/c when the zoo was remodeled, he lost his view of the city, and now just looks at cement walls all day. He is lonely and depressed. He tells Griffin that the assistant Shane lied about him: years ago, Shane told people that Bernie attacked him, but he didn't. Bernie also tells Griffin that when he isn't around, Shane uses a big stick with a nail in the end to hit him. Griffin is sorry and tells Bernie that some people are bad, and some people lie, but that he is his friend. Bernie smiles, and then asks: "Is TGIFridays as incredible as it looks?"
Griffin feeds the wolves and they, too, offer tips to help Griffin. They tell him to pee in a tree, and he refuses. Since the zoo is closed, they get him to try it. As he does, Kate drives by and sees him peeing in the wolf enclosure and is disgusted and confused. He makes up a story that the wolf was stung by a scorpion and he was peeing on the wound, which neutralizes it. She is relieved...and then tells him to go ahead. The wolf is mad, but lets him do it.
His brother Dave and his fiance have a rehearsal dinner before the wedding. Griffin gets the nerve to talk to Stephanie and before the conversation gets too far, she sees another ex-boyfriend, Gale (Joe Rogan). He comes on strong and Stephanie leaves with him instead of Griffin. Griffin talks to the animals afterwards, and they think he needs to get alone with Stephanie and ask her out, without Gale around. The next day there is a pre-wedding bike ride through the city for the wedding party, and Griffin, while being chubby and out of shape, decided that this is his best chance. The animals remind him to "cut Gale from the herd". While biking, Gale sees Griffin and rams his bike. They end up in the street, away from the group. A bike-battle between the two takes place, and it gets rough. Gale hits him with the bike-flag, and Griffin kicks back. Gale falls, and Griffin lunges ahead. He finds Stephanie alone, and asks her to be his date for the wedding, but she tells him that Gale already asked her. Back at the zoo, Griffin reports to the animals what happened, and the lioness offers her advise: be seen with another females; it'll make her jealous. Griffin agrees, and asks Kate to be his "fake-date". She thinks it is silly, and so middle-school, but agrees, and thinks it will be fun to make Stephanie jealous.
It's Bernie's birthday, and Griffin brings him a jello-cake that Kate made for him. He likes it, and Griffin decides to sneak him out for the evening, to see a view of the city. While they are out, Griffin decides to make Bernie's dream come true: he takes him to TGIFridays. He explains that if they put a shirt on Bernie, people will think it is a guy in a costume, especially since he can talk. They order dinner, have a few drinks, dance, karaoke and laugh, and have a great night out. When they return to the zoo, Bernie thanks Griffin for a great birthday and Griffin tells him that he is his friend.
Before the wedding the next day, the animals talk to Griffin, and make sure he has a great suit to wear, and go over the plan. Reclusive Bernie has left his enclosure and joined the group, and the other animals and Griffin are thrilled that he seems so much happier. He asks the reptile guy, Venom (Ken Jeong) if he can borrow his car for the wedding, and drives to pick up Kate. She walks out, looking stunning in a black dress, heels and long hair, unlike her usual zoo-attire of a ponytail, tennies and khaki. Griffin is speechless, and compliments her on how she looks. They go to the wedding together, and she turns a lot of heads. A song comes on and Griffin freezes--it is his-and-Kate's old song. But Kate is performing a ballroom dance to it with Gale, which infuriates Griffin, that she'd use their song. Afterwards, Kate gets Griffin to dance, and they start to swing around the dance floor on the flowing curtains, a la "Cirque du Soleil" style. Stephanie sees how much fun they are having and looks a bit jealous. Kate and Griffin are laughing and clearly having fun, when Griffin loses control of his curtain, and crashes into the band. Dave, the newly-married brother, comes over and Griffin apologizes. He tells him "no worries" and that all is fine. Gale comes up to him, and tells him to back off, but Griffin won't. He gets a call on his cell from gorilla Bernie: remember the plan--go after the girl.
Kate and Griffin leave and are talking in the car: Kate had a great time and obviously has feelings for Griffin, but he doesn't notice. Stephanie comes up to the car window and asks to talk to Griffin: Kate tells him to do it, because that was the plan, and seems happy that they were successful. She takes a cab home, and Stephanie gets in the car with Griffin. She tells him she likes how he has changed, and wants him to come to her fashion show tomorrow. Griffin is happy and agrees.
At the fashion show, the designer insults him, calling him fat, and offensive, andthat he has no taste. Griffin uses the advise he got from the animals, and throws it back at him and makes fun of the designer. Stephanie looks horrified, until the designer pauses...and then laughs. She now thinks Griffin is awesome and then tells him she spoke to his brother behind his back, and wants him to take the job at the dealership, so he can make more money, have a prestigious job and says, "We deserve better" than a zookeeper's job.
Griffin takes the job, and quickly becomes an alpha-male at selling cars, beating out other salesmen and becoming rude and pretentious. He goes back to to zoo to visit Kate, and tells her he quit as zookeeper and is selling cars at the dealership, and living with Stephanie. She stoically wished him well. After he leaves, she tells Venom that she agreed to take a job in Africa--she doesn't want to stay around without Griffin, especially since she is in love with him. Griffin goes to tell Bernie, and Bernie is depressed,. He tells Griffin the he nearly had him believing that he could trust people, but that, as Griffin said, "people lie". Griffin stops in to see Shane: he threatens him that if he ever uses that stick with the nail on it on Bernie, he will come to his house and kick his ass, in front of his grandmother.
At his modern, pricey, pretentious apartment with Stephanie, he realizes that he hates all this stuff, and leaves. At the zoo, Shane throws an apple at Bernie, and enters his enclosure, with the stick.
Griffin is at the dealership, working. Stephanie comes in, and proposes to him with everyone watching. He tells her no, it isn't gonna happen. Surprised, she listens as he tells her he hates how he has changed for her, how he hates himself and his new life. He wants to go back to being a zookeeper, and walks out...as the mariachis Stephanie hired arrive and start to play. She just says, "ignore them" as he did years ago when she rejected his proposal. Griffin goes to the zoo: he heads straight for Bernie to apologize and notices that Bernie has a cut over his eye. He knows that Shane is responsible and is furious. Griffin goes to see Kate and is told she is on her way to the airport to Africa. He rushes out, but misses catching Kate at her apartment, and realizes with rush-hour traffic, he won't get to the airport in time. Bernie has a plan--they row across the river to the other side. Griffin gets on Bernie's back, and Bernie climbs up from the river, up the bridge, so they can see the cars. They spot Kate's taxi and Griffin drops to the ground. She gets out of the cab and asks him what he is doing? He tells her that he was wrong, he didn't need to change, and he kisses her.
6 months later: Bernie is sitting happily in a new enclosure, with a peak that is high enough tha he can overlook the city. Kate is happy with Griffin, and as they look out over the city, Bernie asks as he sees something in the distance, "What is a Benihana's?"
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