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We Bought a Zoo

We Bought a Zoo

What She said:

She

On a weekend where I was terribly disappointed by a certain sci-fi letdown that I paid full movie theater pricing for (Promethius), I was yearning for something a bit surprising.  That said, when I rented We Bought a Zoo I was actually bracing myself for the worst.  The title did nothing for me, I was used to seeing Matt Damon as a trained assassin, not a father, and I was pretty sure I’d have to content with talking animals.  However, this family fare from director Cameron Crowe was not at all what I had expected.  It’s also not what you would expect if you compare it to some of Crowe’s most notable works, Almost Famous or Vanilla Sky

We Bought a Zoo is a crafted blend of light humor and dark themes.  There are moments that are real tear jerkers and plenty of family drama, most notably between our protagonist Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) and his son Dylan (Colin Ford).  The basic synopsis is this: Benjamin’s wife died 6 months ago, and he’s dealing with a lot stress at work and a home life that is falling apart.  Both of his children, Dylan and Rosie, have been forced to grow up faster than they should have, and Dylan in particular is having trouble.  In fact, he’s been expelled from school.  Benjamin becomes desperate for a new start, and so he quits his job, sells his house, and spends his inheritance buying an old run-down zoo in the country.  Part of the agreement in buying the place is that he has to fix it up and re-open it.  Benjamin thinks he’s up to the challenge, and that this will be a good experience for the kids, but he may have gotten himself in over his head.

Scarlett Johansson plays Kelly, the young head zookeeper who is deeply committed to Rosemoor Wildlife Park but has had to sacrifice a lot to try to save it.  Thomas Haden Church is Benjamin’s brother, Duncan, who tries everything in his power to get Benjamin to abandon his rather costly quest.  There are a number of other characters in the film who round out a supporting cast of zoo hands.  Their backgrounds are largely glossed over to focus on the Mee family and Kelly, and so they really only add a measure of humor to the story.

Critic reviews of We Bought a Zoo were mixed, with many rather unfavorable.  I think they all had higher standards for a Cameron Crowe movie, but I felt that in using the metric of a family film, this movie was pretty good.  The performances are solid, and there is a little bit of humor for everyone.  Very little kids may get bored, unless the sight of animals is enough to keep them occupied.  There’s a little romance for the pre-teens, and the overarching theme of coping with death and rebirth is applicable to a vast audience.  Are things in this movie a little too easy?  Probably.  But it would have been a very long film that went nowhere if the makers were more realistic.  The story is actually based on true events, but as with all “based on a true story” movies, there are facts here that are quite stretched. 

I found We Bought a Zoo to be at times touching, at other times very funny, and on the whole a refreshing movie.  It’s the kind of thing I’d like to see with my mom.  In fact, maybe I should rent it again so I can show it to her.  Anyway, it’s not as bad as some of the critics would make you think.

Thumbs up.

What he said:

He

I had zero interest in this movie. When the She brought it home, I expected to be bored out of my mind for the next couple of hours. I distinctly remember the trailers and I didn’t think it looked particularly bad; it just wasn’t something I could get super-excited about. It seemed like a pretty cookie cutter family flick.

Truth-be-told that is kind of what We Bought a Zoo is. It isn’t the most groundbreaking movie I have ever seen. It is even a little predictable at times. But you know what? Whoever said a movie has to be original or overly complicated in order to be any good is full of the stuff they are shoveling throughout this movie. I was very surprised by how much I liked this movie. It was very funny at times and quite endearing at others. It was a nice little family comedy/drama and if you have any interest in animals at all that will serve as a bonus.

Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is a newly single father after having lost his wife sometime in the last several months. He has gotten past the point of the initial shock and is working on adjusting to living his life without his wife and raising their children without their mother. That is not to say he isn’t hurting – because throughout the movie you are shown how hard it can be to move on from a situation like that – but his main goal is helping his family move on.

His daughter Rosie (Maggie Elisabeth Jones) is handling the situation surprisingly well. She is one of those little kids that – while still very clearly a child at times – has the outlook and maturity of somebody well beyond her years. She is also one of the cutest kids I’ve ever seen. This kid is a total scene stealer. I really enjoyed watching her performance. It was very genuine; which can be rare for a kid that young.

Ben’s son Dylan (Colin Ford) is having a much harder time with the loss of his mother. He’s acting out in all kinds of ways and doesn’t give his dad a break in any way whatsoever. The actor was actually really good at portraying the characters pain. Dylan becomes even more annoyed when his father announces they are moving out to the country (away from his friends). Ben thinks a fresh start is good for his family and that a big place in the country will offer all kinds of other things occupy them.

Oh and did I mention it’s a zoo?! Ben has this crazy idea of rehabilitating this rundown zoo and maybe his family in the process. The zoo is maintained by a skeleton staff until the property has a new owner. Kelly (Scarlett Johannson) is the one in charge. She loves Rosemoor Wildlife Park and has sacrificed a lot just to maintain it. She wants to see it go back to its former glory and has no time for wannabes; so when Ben – who knows nothing about running a zoo – seemingly has a midlife crisis and pulls the trigger on the deal, she is extremely skeptical of him. She isn’t afraid to let him know about it either.

The rest of the cast is filled with all kinds of amusing characters; one of which is his brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church). He thinks his brother has lost his mind, isn’t afraid to say so, and is absolutely hilarious when he lets him know. One of the other more memorable characters is Lily (Elle Fanning). She is Kelly’s cousin who works at the zoo and is homeschooled; so she is often on the premises. She serves as a love interest for Dylan. You can see it the second these two are on screen together; like I said the movie can be a little predictable. But the reason I didn’t care was because she was an extremely naïve and endearing character. In a world where kids are plugged into a half a dozen different digital toys at the same time and in a rush to grow up from an early age, I found her to be very refreshing. Some people might find the character to be a little idealistic, but I really enjoyed the performance. This is the kind of kid people hope for when they decided to make the decision to start a family.

This movie didn’t grab many people’s attention. Some critics were even pretty rough on it. But I thought it was a very charming little movie. It was a good little comedy/drama that covers all aspects of life in simple but entertaining way.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie was written for your reading pleasure on June 15, 2012.