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December 10, 2011
Review - " We Bought a Zoo "  -  (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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We Bought a Zoo
Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Colin Ford,
Thomas haden Church, Elle Fanning, Patrick Fugit, Angus
Macfadyen, Elizabeth Jones, John Michael Higgins, Peter
Riegert.

We Bought A Zoo is a wonderfully saccharine, sweet,
cliched and family friendly drama from Cameron Crowe,
the former Rolling Stone journalist turned filmmaker, who
previously gave us Say Anything, Almost Famous and
Jerry Maguire, etc. This is Crowe’s first film in six years,
since the failure of Elizabethtown, and it lacks the edge
and genuine emotional resonance of his best films. It’s
based on a true story. But as with most of these films
Crowe and screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna, who
specialises in women’s pictures like 27 Dresses, etc, have
obviously taken a few liberties for dramatic purposes.

The film centres around the Mee family, headed by
Benjamin (Matt Damon), who is still grieving over the
recent death of his wife. He is struggling to help his family
cope, particularly his brooding 14-year old son Dylan
(Colin Ford). Anxious to make a fresh start, Benjamin quits
his job as a reporter and moves the family to a big house
on a sprawling property on the outskirts of town. The catch
is that the house comes with its own ramshackle private
zoo, an adventure park that has been closed to the public
for a couple of years.

However, Rosemoor is still home to several dozen
endangered species, and Benjamin decides to reopen the
zoo. In interacting with both the animals and the human
staff  – including Scarlett Johansson as workaholic zoo
manager Kelly, Patrick Fugit, Angus Macfadyen’s angry
drunk MacCready, and teenage intern Lily (Elle Fanning) – Benjamin’s family slowly begins to heal.

There is a subplot involving an ailing 17 year old tiger, and in watching its suffering and trying to keep it alive Benjamin is
finally able to move on from his own grief. There is also some humour from John Michael Higgins’ officious inspector who
has to sign off on the improvements before the zoo can reopen. There is some unnecessary padding here that stretches
the film past the two-hour mark.

We Bought A Zoo deals with some strong and universal themes like grief, fatherhood, responsibility, angst, and family
dynamics, and it contains some strong moral messages, and there is not enough cute animal antics to placate younger
audiences.

Damon’s performance is quite solid and grounds the film. He brings his usual decency to his role as the depressed and
grieving father trying to move on. Damon and Ford have some emotional moments as the frustrated father trying to
communicate to his angry and apathetic son. “Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage,” he tells Dylan in a
rare moment of intimacy, “and I promise you, something great will happen.” Newcomer Elizabeth Jones is precocious,
adorable and cute as
Benjamin’s seven-year-old
daughter Rosie, who
enthusiastically embraces her
new life in the zoo.

I am overrating this film a bit,
but on a subjective level I just
really loved it. The movie had
a few cliche trappings, but
surprisingly avoided many as
well. The story had more
emotional depth than most
family films ever do, the humor
was well timed and not too silly,
and all of the characters had a
part to play that felt natural
and furthered the story. It was
just a great clean family film to
watch with solid acting and a
fun story.