Animal Kingdom is a US TV drama based on an Australian movie about the turbulent relationship between matriarch Janine Cody, her sons, and their crime business.
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Animal Kingdom Original Movie
Animal Kingdom began as an Australian movie in 2010, which achieved international acclaim. It tells the story of a powerful matriarch (Jacki Weaver) and her son’s life of crime (including Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, and Guy Pearce). They nominated Jacki Weaver for an Academy Award for best supporting actress.
The Animal Kingdom TV series is the American version of the same story.
The Cody family
Animal Kingdom’s predominant character is Janine (Smurf) Cody, played by Ellen Barkin. It follows the lives of her grown-up sons Pope (Shawn Hatosy), Craig (Ben Robson) and Deran (Jake Weary) and her adopted son Baz (Scott Speedman) as they go about their criminal enterprise.
The first episode starts when grandson Joshua (J) Cody (Finn Cole), whose mother has just died of an overdose, arrives. J struggles, at first, to handle his new environment and then quickly adapts to life with his uncles.
Animal Kingdom takes place in Oceanside, California, where there are a lot of thrills seeking action, surfing and planning for the next crime. There is a constant fight for being the toughest, the cleverest, or sometimes just who is the least stupid.
Janine (Smurf) Cody
No matter how big or how tough the boys are, the person everyone is afraid of is the mother, Smurf. Ellen Barkin delivers a standout performance as Janine (Smurf) Cody, the intrusive mother and ruthless businesswoman. She manipulates and uses her sons to achieve her ends while providing them an indulged and affluent life. She traps them in a childlike and dependent state, never quite allowing them to grow up.
Smurf presides over a substantial property portfolio, a testament to her exceptional business acumen, and used to launder their dirty money. Her comfortable, affluent home is the centre of most of the scenes. Here she bestows favouritism on which son or grandson she happens to need, exploiting their yearning for her love and approval. Yet, no matter how badly she manipulates and treats those around her, she retains your respect and admiration.
The most impressive of the boys is the adopted son Baz Blackwell, played by Scott Speedman and Pope’s closest friend. Scott Speedman is best known for his roles as Michael Corvin, a vampire-werewolf hybrid from the Underworld movie series. He is effectively second in charge, managing and planning each criminal operation.
Baz comes across as the charming, most level-headed, and rational of the family. However, there is an underlying coldness and ruthlessness to him. There are heartbreaking scenes where Baz goes to the trailer his father lives, where we see the life from which Smurf saved him. He concedes he was already screwed up long before the Cody family took him in.
Speedman is exceptional in his understated delivery of the role. But, unfortunately, his untimely end leaves a conspicuous gap in the Animal Kingdom cast.
Pope Cody, played by Shawn Hatosy, is the eldest of the brothers and the most volatile and unhinged. When J first arrives, he unexpectedly returns home after his release from prison. He is constantly menacing when around but fiercely loyal to the family, particularly Baz and his brothers. Smurf often babies him but regularly uses him to do the dirtiest deeds. His deceased twin sister is the mother of J.
One of the saddest scenes with Pope is when he gets attached to Amy, a woman from the Church they rob. As they get more intimate, he tries to seek redemption, yet she rejects him when he tells her the terrible thing he has done.
The youngest brother is Deran Cody, played by Jake Weary and viewed by Smurf as the baby of the family. He is closest to his older brother Craig, with whom he frequently hangs out and surfs. Eventually, Deran grows increasingly resentful about being sidelined in the family. This situation only worsens when Smurf gives J authority over her financial affairs.
There is a scene where Deran warns one of his old school friends that he is the nice one (of the Codys). This remark accurately depicts Deran, the most likable of the Cody family, who dreams of a better, more normal life outside the family. Quietly, Deran buys and opens a Surf Bar to achieve this dream while also hoping to earn the respect he craves from his family. But, he becomes increasingly distant from Smurf, assuming she will, as usual, undermine him.
Deran soon gets let down by the people he cares about, particularly Adrian. Consequently, events around him ensure that he will always remain a Cody, who must be careful about who he trusts, even his biological father (Denis Leary). Nonetheless, Deran grows in confidence and challenges J for leadership.
Joshua “J” Cody
In Animal Kingdom, a strange dynamic plays out with how J Cody, played by Finn Cole, is portrayed. He should be central, as the story is about his arrival, yet J sits on the sidelines, with the brothers being the focus. J isn’t likeable, and the reason for this constantly changes as episodes progress.
There is a chilling scene when J stands over a sleeping Smurf and warns her he will destroy her. Later, when the lawyer investigates the sale of properties, J murders her at sea in one of the most horrific scenes of the show. After which, you never really know whether everyone should line up with J because of his intelligence or be afraid of him.
Fathers and Flashbacks
All the Cody boys are missing a father that Smurf drove away early in their lives. Similar to shows like Cobra Kai, the absent father figure casts a long shadow that impacts the son’s personal development. Animal Kingdom also uses flashbacks in its later seasons, as Psych does, to explain the history of its characters. Eventually, we see how it all started for a young Smurf.
Animal Kingdom screens on the TNT network and is in its fifth season. The sixth season of Animal Kingdom is the final.