Zebra in the Kitchen

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Zebra in the Kitchen
Zebra in the Kitchen poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ivan Tors
Screenplay byArt Arthur
Story byElgin Ciampi
Produced by
Cinematography Lamar Boren
Edited byWarren Adams
Music by Warren Barker
Release date
  • June 1965 (1965-06)
Running time
92 minutes
CountryUnited States

Zebra in the Kitchen is a 1965 American children's film produced and directed by Ivan Tors and starring Jay North in his first leading feature-film role. It also stars Martin Milner and Andy Devine, with costars Joyce Meadows and Jim Davis. The film tells the story of a boy who, when forced to give his pet mountain lion to the local zoo, becomes upset at the living conditions of the animals there and attempts to free them. Originally released by MGM as a children's matinee feature, the film has subsequently been released on home video by Warner Bros.' family-entertainment division.



In a frame story, Branch Hawksbill, assistant director of a city zoo, is visited by a father and son who have a bear cub that they found during a camping trip. The father tries to convince his son Tim that the bear should be donated to the zoo. Tim refuses, equating the zoo to a prison. Branch proceeds to tell Tim about another boy who faced a similar decision. Chris Carlyle lives in the countryside, where he has befriended an adult male mountain lion named Sunshine. Because Chris has treated the animal as a pet since it was a cub, it is very docile and accustomed to eating human food. When Chris's parents inform him that they are moving to the city, Chris worries that Sunshine will not survive alone in the wild. Unbeknownst to his parents, Chris sneaks Sunshine onto the back of the family's truck and brings him to their new home in the suburbs, where the mountain lion's presence quickly frightens the neighbors. Zoo director Dr. Del Hartwood, his assistant Isobel Moon and head zookeeper Branch convince Chris to donate Sunshine to the city zoo.

When Chris visits the zoo, he is saddened to see that the animals are confined to cramped cages made of chain-link fencing. After having a nightmare about being locked in a cage himself, Chris resolves to free Sunshine. Seeing that Chris has a bond with Sunshine, the zoo staff offer him a summer job as a junior zookeeper. Dr. Hartwood complains to members of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission that the zoo is underfunded and that its facilities are outdated, which has resulted in injuries to some of the animals, but is advised that the politicians are unlikely to help unless pressured by public opinion.

A trio of troublemaking boys harass the zoo animals, feeding cigars to a hippopotamus. Chris steals Branch's keys and opens all of the cages, setting the animals loose to wander the city. This results in a series of comedic situations including an ostrich swallowing a portable radio, a bear riding a bicycle through the streets, a zebra in a family's kitchen, an Asian elephant drinking a man's bathwater and several primates invading a toy store. Public panic ensues, and the zoo staff scramble to gather the animals before the police start killing them. Councilman Pew blames Dr. Hartwood for the escape and demands his resignation. After a few hours, most of the animals have either returned to the zoo on their own or have been recaptured. The police corner Chris and Sunshine in a warehouse and are ready to shoot Sunshine, but Dr. Hartwood calms Sunshine by feeding it whipped cream.

To protect Chris and Dr. Hartwood, Branch surrenders and claims that he released the animals to draw public attention to the plight of the zoo. At Branch's trial, Chris confesses, unwilling to let Branch take the blame. Dr. Hartwood passionately defends Chris's actions as motivated by his love of animals and resulting in a change to the public's apathy toward the zoo. The judge dismisses the case and orders Chris to spend two hours each day working at the zoo for the rest of the summer.

As Branch concludes the story, he proudly shows Tim the new and improved zoo approved by the city council. The fence cages have been replaced by modern, roomier, open-air exhibits. Chris works there and cares for Sunshine. Tim consents to give the bear cub to the zoo, believing that it will be happy there.


This was North's first starring role after the cancellation of his hit television series Dennis the Menace (1959–1963). [1]


Zebra in the Kitchen was produced and directed by Ivan Tors, who had become known for his work with children and animals following the success of his MGM films Flipper (1963) and Rhino! (1964), as well as the 1964 Flipper television series. [1] [2] Principal photography began in July 1964. [3]

Trained animals were provided by Africa USA. Zebra in the Kitchen was the film debut of Bruno the Bear, who later became known for portraying the titular bear in the television series Gentle Ben (1967–69). [4]

The shots of the "new zoo" in the closing scene were filmed at the San Diego Zoo.

Music for the film was composed by Warren Barker, and the theme song "Zebra in the Kitchen" was written by North's uncle and on-set guardian Hal Hopper and performed by the Standells.

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  1. 1 2 "Jay North Making Comeback At Age 12". The Montreal Gazette. July 31, 1964.
  2. "Dennis, More Menacing In 'Zebra in the Kitchen'". The Windsor Star. July 24, 1965.
  3. "'Zebra in the Kitchen' first of 4 for family". Ottawa Citizen. July 11, 1964.
  4. Woolery, George W. Children's Television: The First Thirty-Five Years, 1946-1981, Part II: Live, Film and Tape Series. Scarecrow Press, 1983, p. 193. ISBN   0810816512.