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Will James have animal magnetism with 'Zookeeper'?

Actor Kevin James arrives at the

Actor Kevin James arrives at the "Death At A Funeral" Los Angeles Premiere at Pacific's Cinerama Dome on April 12, 2010 in Hollywood, California. Credit: Getty/Jason Merritt

The Kevin James comedy "Zookeeper" will be released next summer.

Why is that a big deal? Note the word summer, as in, possibly the movie industry's most competitive, cutthroat season.

James has scored hits in the past, and next month he'll appear in "Grown-Ups" with Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and David Spade. But James has never carried the lead role in a comedy released during the summer months, when studios pull out their big guns. This year, for instance, we'll see Tom Cruise, Will Ferrell, Julia Roberts and Robert Downey Jr.; who knows what next summer will hold?

James, a Stony Brook native, graduated from television ("The King of Queens") to movies with 2007's "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry," in which he and Sandler played New York firefighters posing as a gay couple. It was a hit, but James' next comedy, 2009's "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," got plunked into theaters on a cold, dead January weekend. Nevertheless, it also became a hit, eventually pulling in $146 million, according to BoxOfficeMojo.

With "Zookeeper," James won't be entirely on his own: Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher and Judd Apatow will provide the voices for various animals who help a lonely zookeeper (James) win the girl. Sony appears to believe in the film: The studio purchased it from the ailing MGM and moved the release date from Oct. 8 of this year to July 8 of 2011.

Will it work? "It's got tremendous heart and soul," Rory Bruer, Sony's distribution president, recently told The Hollywood Reporter. "And talking animals? Gimme a break, it's so funny."

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