Is Animal Kingdom a True Story?

TNT’s ‘Animal Kingdom’ is a family crime drama series that revolves around Joshua Cody, better known as J, a teenager who moves in with his grandmother and uncles after his mother dies. However, his family is not just another family; it is a powerful criminal clan headed by his grandma, Janine Cody AKA Smurf. Crime shows are quite popular in the world of television but what makes them even more interesting is the resemblance to incidents we come across in the news. So, could it mean that this family drama is inspired by real-life events? Well, here is everything we have gathered!

Is Animal Kingdom Based on a True Story?

No, ‘Animal Kingdom’ is not based on a true story. The series closely follows the multiple-award-winning 2010 Australian film of the same name, which is apparently inspired by events true to life. Several people have pointed out that the storylines for the film and the series seem to closely mirror the experiences of the infamous Pettingill family from Melbourne and the 1988 Walsh Street police shootings. However, David Michôd, the writer and director of the critically acclaimed Australian film, denied direct links to any actual people or events.

Michôd revealed that he was fascinated by true crime and started writing the script for the film when he was only 18-years-old. In an interview in May 2010, he stated, “It [‘Animal Kingdom’] is not based on any real people.” He continued, “There may be an event or two that people feel they recognize from Melbourne’s rich criminal story, but I wanted to build a big fictional story.” Michôd also serves as one of the executive producers of the American crime series. But all said and done, the similarities between the characters and actual events are hard to look past.

The Codys are a lot like the Pettingills. The matriarch’s character closely resembles Kath Pettingill, a much-feared person in the crime circles of Melbourne. Janine “Smurf” Cody has a large family, and her sons are involved in criminal activities. However, the real-life Kath was not happy with the comparisons to the 2010 film. Not only did she criticize Jacki Weaver’s Oscar-nominated performance, but she also said that the similarities end with the fact that both women are short and blonde.

As for the speculations regarding whether or not the film is about the Pettingills, Kath emphasized that it barely reflects the truth about her or her family. J’s character seems to be inspired by Jason Ryan, who is actually Kath Pettingill’s grandson. In real life, when the investigations were going on for the Walsh Street police shootings, Ryan was minded by a veteran cop named John Noonan. In the film, Detective Senior Sergeant Nathan Leckie seems to occupy that space in J’s life.

However, in the series, the figure of a law enforcement officer has been minimized because the creative team wanted the focus to remain on the Cody family and not their crimes. It also moves in a different direction than the film, beginning with the setting itself. The story of the TNT show unfolds in Southern California, unlike the movie that is set in 1980s Melbourne. In January 2016, during a TCA panel discussion before the series debuted, Ellen Barkin (Smurf) said, “I don’t think the movie was a beginning, a middle, or an endpoint for us. It was more like source material as much as a book I might read.”

The series developer Jonathan Lisco elaborated that the show dives deeper into its characters because he did not want the cast members to simply replicate the performances of the 2010 movie. Barkin admitted that she thoroughly informed herself about the Pettingill family to prepare for her role. She also wanted her character to have a glass eye like Kath Pettingill, who lost an eye to a bullet injury. However, the producers reportedly decided against it.

The Pettingill family, their associates, and infamous activities have been discussed and depicted in several TV shows and films. Here are some television series that might ring a bell: ‘Underbelly,’ ‘Killing Time,’ ‘Phoenix,’ and ‘Janus.’ The family also features in the Netflix docuseries titled ‘Drug Lords.’ Taking everything into account, even though the characters seem to be inspired by real-life people, ‘Animal Kingdom’ is a work of fiction.

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