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We Bought a Zoo

2012-01-20 13:11
What it's about:

Based on a true story (which took place in England), We Bought a Zoo tells of a recently widowed writer Benjamin Mee (played by Matt Damon) who moves his young family to entirely new territory as they become owners of a rundown zoo in the Californian countryside.

What we thought:

We Bought a Zoo is probably the most light-hearted and mushy Cameron Crowe has ever allowed himself to be. He's not the type of director to shy away from sentimentality, but this family comedy-drama is so light and playful it could just as easily have been an animated tale.

Though it must be said that We Bought a Zoo's apparent 'lightness' has been ever so slightly misrepresented in the goofy trailer accompanying this movie.

Sure, the little girl who plays Rosie Mee, Benjamin's precocious 7-year-old daughter is an apple-cheeked delight, and even the title is whimsical enough to raise a smile - but there's a deep-seated sadness that propels all the action in the plot that's a much harder sell for a family film.

We meet Benjamin Mee as a harried single father of the above-mentioned cutie pie daughter and a much more taciturn teenage son Dylan, who recently discovered that it was OK to hate his father and blame him for all the wrong in the world and has decided to stick to his guns. There's lots of tension between father and son and as all other good-natured movie dads, Benjamin doesn't spank his son or punish him in any way, he just takes the abuse on the chin and decides that what he needs is a change in scenery - hence the acquisition of a zoo.

Thankfully this happened in real life (albeit to a British Benjamin Mee and his family) so I don't have to get too worked up over the plausibility of such a plot contrivance.

The zoo itself is a once-proud institution, where families could explore and animals could be locked up for their entertainment. Of course, We Bought a Zoo is not at all concerned about that particular detail, but does take great care to be sympathetic towards the health of one particular prized beast - Spar, an aged Bengal tiger whose diseased body inches ever closer towards the inevitable - only Benjamin can't quite bring himself to deal with yet another death in the family, not when the zoo is meant to heal the hurt of his wife's recent death.

Helping the Mees deal with their loss is the zoo's weird and wacky staff - chief among them being Scarlett Johansson's Kelly, a dedicated zookeeper who is more comfortable with animals than humans. Will Kelly also fill the hole in Benjamin's heart? You sort of hope not, but alas Crowe can't quite resist the allure of romantic closure.

The cast - which also includes Patrick Fugit (the star of Crowe's Almost Famous), Elle Fanning and Thomas Haden Church as Benjamin's older brother - are well equipped to bring that constant, almost cloying, charm factor to a high.

Matt Damon, being Matt Damon, gives a particularly touching and assured performance and steers We Bought a Zoo to some sort of endgame - since there's not that much at stake in the fortunes of this one zoo. The audience is always assured that every setback, such as it is, will be happily resolved by the next scene. 

As this is a Cameron Crowe production, the music on offer is a highlight, with a score courtesy of Icelandic singer Jonsi (of the band Sigur Ros) and some classic tunes from Neil Young.

We Bought a Zoo certainly looks the part of a fun, family night out and is fully committed to it - even though the undercurrent of heartache is ever-present.

Though it's odd that for a film about a zoo, the animals are a bit of an after-thought.

We Bought a Zoo certainly looks the part of a fun, family night out and is fully committed to it - even though the undercurrent of heartache is ever-present.
Read more on:    matt damon  |  scarlett johansson  |  movies

jeanette 2012/02/15 11:12 AM
  • Rating:
good family movie
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