Really, when are folks the most maudlin if not during the holiday season? When they're most likely to forgive one's abundance of sentimentality? WE BOUGHT A ZOO utilizes savvy product placement by coinciding its box office release with the month of December. Not that it mattered to me one bit when this film would've come out. Me, I'm a sucker for the sentimental stuff. The movie's title doesn't lie; you get the gist of the premise. Here's Cameron Crowe again, manipulating your emotions, coaxing a laugh, making you tear up. He's such a user.
It's based on a true story. Matt Damon, one of my favorite actors, plays journalist Benjamin Mee who nurses an adventurous streak. He has interviewed dangerous underworld figures in third world nations. He has flown into Category 4 storms. Benjamin profoundly believes that 20 seconds of insane courage can only alter your life for the better. But how much insane courage can one muster when the love of your life leaves you?
Benjamin Mee can't stand pity, even pity assignments at work. Six months after his wife's passing, Benjamin quits his career and - when a neighbor's party causes his seven-year-old girl Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) to remark: "Their happy's too loud." - he uproots the fam. Seeking a new residence, he and Rosie stumble upon what looks to be the ideal home in the country, even if it's nine miles from a Target store or pretty much from any other store. Except that a broken-down zoo is attached to the house. Buy one, buy the other. Benjamin Mee has always strived to give his kids an "authentic American experience," but his bump of common sense is interfering here. Ultimately, it's little Rosie's unbounded joy at the thought of having a zoo that decides things. Benjamin's cautious accountant brother (Thomas Haden Church) is pretty much aghast.
WE BOUGHT A ZOO isn't as incisive or emotionally searing as THE DESCENDANTS, a similar picture dealing with a family's grief. WE BOUGHT A ZOO, to be frank, won't be nominated for as many awards as THE DESCENDANTS will. Except that I like this movie better. Sue me for prefering clear-cut happy endings. While Clooney's dramedy tends to cut too close to home and no one in WE BOUGHT A ZOO comes close to Shailene Woodley's fierce performance, Matt Damon and the rest of the cast guide you to more familiar territory. Their story has a warmth and an undeniable sweetness to it, brought about in huge part by the actors but also by Crowe's knack for heartstring tugging. And, of course, the zoo animals.
Benjamin Mee has his work cut out for him. The Rosemoor Wildlife Park has been dead in the water for the past two years, and just how strongly does he want to commit to operating a zoo, let alone resurrecting it to specs? The dreaded inspection is fast approaching. His idiosyncratic new employees - including the gorgeous zookeeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) - are casting dubious eyes at him. Benjamin's troubled teen son, Dylan, hates the place, hates everything, really. He keeps on drawing those disturbing images. Benjamin and Dylan just can't seem to connect.
I admit that I choked up in places (damn you, Cameron Crowe!). Yes, this is a sappy film, and some bits feel contrived, but the cast, I feel, ultimately rises above it all. Matt Damon is a sturdy lead and he grounds the story, and I do like that spark between him and Scarlett Johannson. Elle Fanning, who is growing up fast, has a glow about her, sweetly playing the zookeeper's younger sister, Lily, who approaches the tormented artist Dylan with open acceptance. And while there's a chance that Crowe may have overplayed his hand by making Rosie's input so invaluable in a key sequence - it's pretty hard to believe that a seven-year-old could be so canny - there's no arguing that Maggie Elizabeth Jones is just about the cutest thing on earth (sorry, tap-dancing penguins). So, I dunno, sir. WE BOUGHT A ZOO may not come across as emotionally blunt or "truthful" as THE DESCENDANTS. But this is Christmastime wherein edges are softened. There's no place here for blunt truths.
Heart-warming, moving, funny, and beautifully acted - We Bought A Zoo is a very enjoyable family movie that will both lift your spirits with its graceful humor, and make you reflect on life and family related issues thanks to the profound message it carries. It's a fantastic adaptation of Benjamin Mee's memoir, and one of the most delightful movies I've seen in recent months.
Colin Ford, who plays the troubled son, was absolutely fantastic in his role. Sympathetic and real, he really brought his character to life with his convincing acting. And so did Matt Damon. Now, I'm not a huge fan of Matt Damon, but I must admit that he really fit into this role perfectly. You could tell that he enjoyed himself and that definitely elevated his performance. Scarlett Johansson surprised me. To be honest, I did not think of Johansson when picturing Kelly Foster while reading the book. I imagined someone taller, tougher and more obviously kick-ars. And yet when I saw Johansson on the screen I knew she was the one! She wasn't her usual girly self, she appeared stronger and fiercer than ever, and I really loved that about her. She turned out to be the perfect girl for the role.
It's not very often that I prefer the movie adaptation over the book its based on, but that's exactly what happened with We Bought a Zoo. I enjoyed the book a lot, but I loved the movie even more. Maybe it's thanks to the fabulous cast and their expressiveness, maybe I loved the animals, or the soundtrack and the uplifting atmosphere it created. Or maybe it's a little bit of everything and how it all came together, exploring the complexity of life, family relationships, grief and love. I don't know. All I know is that I really loved this movie. It moved me. I feel that I learned something important while watching it. It was a magical and enriching experience and I'll definitely recommend watching We Bought A Zoo to all my friends.
on April 6, 2012
This may have been last years only real movie. You'd never know that from the title because its far from a campy kids movie. Matt Damon has never been better, and Scarlet until now has never been a favorite. It's not often that the entire family can enjoy a movie together. My 11 year old son said that he loved it so much that it's tied for #1 with The Goonies, and that's saying something coming from an 11 year old boy. The entire family agreed that laughing, and occasionally shedding a tear in the same movie is a good thing. I wish there were more movies like We Bought a Zoo. Actually, I just wish there were more Cameron Crowe movies.
on February 7, 2012
The sound of the plot sounds like a complete kids movie (and the audience of the showing I attended would prove that claim), but there is more to this film than meets the eye. Director Cameron Crowe (one of my favorites) co-writes a wonderful screenplay full of engaging, fun characters, based on the true life story of Benjamin Mee, a man who decided to purchase a run-down zoo, fix it up, and re-open it. Matt Damon, Colin Ford (who they did a wonderful job as casting as Damon's son as he looks just like a younger version of Damon), and Elle Fanning are the stars of this film, and while the animals and kids may seem like the focus, it is the relationships and life issues that take center stage. The film has that particular heartwarming magic that is infused in nearly all of Crowe's films, which is so appealing to me; it also features one of the best music scores of the year by Jonsi (of Sigur Ros). I don't know if this is exactly for kids 'cause there are lots of grown-up, dramatic moments (and they might get bored), but it's a film I'd see over and over.
on April 2, 2012
Well this family makes buying a zoo look fun anyway!
I could not disagree more with the "professional" reviewers associated with print/online newspapers & magazines who gave this movie one or two stars and ranted about how it was not for kids. Kid friendly movies are very hard to come by and to bash this one as such is not right.
This movie is a great family movie, BUT you have to know your children and what they can handle. Yes, there are some possibly scary/disturbing images drawn by the son, which are shown several times. I wish the movie didn't have them, or at least didn't make them so graphic, and the movie would have worked just fine without them. It does have its place in the movie and the family works through it. (This caused me to give the movie four stars instead of five, it just wasn't necessary) There is also some language that parents may be concerned about. H*.l a few times, S--t three to six times, B.S. once or twice & *$$ or A-ho once or twice. HOWEVER, I just heard that the DVD will feature a family friendly audio track that can be selected in the menu. This will reduce the above instances greatly changing a few S--ts to Shoot and possibly eliminating them alltogether. This does not address the disturbing images though, so keep that in mind.
Overall this movie will give you a great story full of emotion and laughter. This is one movie you can watch with the whole family~ young and old (provided the previously mentioned images are discussed and perhaps understood beforehand). Matt Damon gives a great performance and really shows his talent in this one. The fact that it is based on an actual family makes it quite interesting!
on April 20, 2012
As a writer who specializes in adventure, Benjamin Mee (played by Matt Damon) has pretty much been there, done that, and gotten the T-Shirt from just about every venue imaginable. When his wife passes away after an illness (we are led to believe that it might have been cancer), Benjamin mentally "checks out" from life. The loss is keenly felt by his son (Colin Ford) and daughter (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). Ben quits his job, his son gets expelled from school, and the scene is set for the most improbable adventure of all . . . life.
Benjamin leaves everything behind and winds up purchasing a new house with an interesting stipulation: he must also take on the administration and upkeep of the zoo that is located on the property! Throw in a skeleton crew of loyal staff, a runaway bear, an aging tiger, and more wildlife than you can shake a stick at, and you have the makings of the ultimate adventure. Is Benjamin up to the challenge? Or has the adventure specialist finally met his match?
Touted by Lou Lumenick as "a delightful surprise of a family movie," I would have to cautiously agree. There are some issues with language, which can be dealt with by selecting the Family-Friendly Audio Track (in English only). There are a couple of kissing scenes, but there are no hot and heavy groping sessions at all. There is a sort of clubhouse where the staff meets to unwind, so alcohol and tobacco are prevalent as well.
Other special features of the DVD include: Audio in Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish, and French languages as well as Descriptive Audio and a Commentary with Director Cameron Crowe, Actor J.B. Smoove, and Editor Mark Livelsi; and Subtitles for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired and in Spanish.
WE BOUGHT A ZOO is loosely based upon the real-life story of the Dartmoor Zoological Park located in Dartmoor, Deveon, England, which was forced to close in 2006, and reopened under the Mee family in 2007. The film was nominated for Best Live Action Family Film by the Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards, and for Best Original Song by the Satellite Awards. Not only did Cameron Crowe direct the film, he was the lyricist for the song in question.
Throughout the film, the viewer will be bombarded with the positive message, "Bad things happen. You just keep going." Benjamin Mee and his family continue to do so, despite an evil Zoo inspector, a traitor in their midst, and a financial mess that would keep Bill Gates up at night. I would give this film 4.5 out of 5 stars, keeping in mind the issues mentioned above. And don't forget to check out their website -
on April 11, 2012
Stories that have plots in some way derived of "inspired by true events" can go one of two ways. The first is either more of docu-drama that is far too technical and biographical to be really entertaining, and the second option is an uplifting drama that could inspire its viewer to betterment. This movie is the latter.
He has been on a plane that went straight into the heart of a hurricane, interviewed world leaders in war-torn countries but nothing could prepare Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) for the loss of his beloved wife and the responsibility of raising his two children without Katherine at his side. A year ago the family of four was a happy, typical American family; six months ago they said good-bye to a wife and mother. Now, Benjamin is tired of sympathy. He cannot stomach the attentions he or his children are getting from people who are merely feeling pity for them. His brother, Duncan (Thomas Hayden Church) encourages Benjamin to get out more and "interact" with people but when his fourteen-year-old son (Colin Ford) gets expelled from school after his fourth offense, Benjamin sees that something needs to change. With a fresh start in mind, he and his precocious seven-year-old daughter, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) begin looking at new properties until he finds one that is exactly what his family needs - only problem is, the backyard is literally a zoo!
Dylan is angry about the move and thinks his adventurer dad is crazy to buy a zoo while young Rosie finds happiness and a place where she can feel at home - and best of all, his daughter is laughing again. The Mee's find the zoo staff knowledgeable and ready to help them along as they learn everything about zoo-keeping. Head zookeeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) befriends the family and is encouraged to see Benjamin has a genuine heart to make the zoo a success while her shy cousin Lily (Elle Fanning) attempts to be friends with Dylan. Even with minor progress behind them, hardships still find Benjamin. Unless the family can band together, their livelihood will be sorely tested.
Seeing this movie when I did almost didn't happen because the copy I had reserved wasn't coming in but I nabbed one elsewhere and can only say how glad I am to have seen it! There is a lot to be admired in this film regardless of a premise that seems mediocre and not all that "interesting" when compared to some of the blockbusters that are clamoring for "first place" and our attention. One of the first things I was most impressed with was the script - it is not only funny (more on that later) but also tugs on our heartstrings in a way that still leaves us with a smile at the end result. All of the dialogue - or the majority of it, is written with a family grieving in mind, and that is one of its strengths. The directing is equally dynamic. There are multiple scenes that I loved the set-up of; the simplicity in them is not too sappy but yet has a beautiful familiarity to them - scenes that are reminiscent of realistic life. It is this quality that so endears the film, and connects with its audience.
What helps this along to an extreme that is beautifully portrayed is the acting. Damon is a first-rate versatile actor, and he does not disappoint in this role. Seeing him play a father is one of the best roles he's had to date - the way he relates to his on-screen children is precious. Then there are the child actors; Colin does an admirable job but it is young Maggie who steals every single frame she is in. I cannot tell you what a doll she was in this role, how sweet, sassy and spot-on perfect she is. You just have to experience it for yourself. She is like a miniature adult who is still an innocent in the best sense of the word. (Many of you may also remember her from the re-make of "Footloose.") Although I don't clamor to see everything Johansson is in, she is cute in the role and her chemistry with Damon is memorable albeit one made of more tender emotions than "sparks" of romance. (It was also a pleasant surprise to see one of the rotating "squints" from "Bones" in a supporting role.)
"We Bought a Zoo" is the surprise movie of the year at my house (yes, I am aware it is only April). My whole family found it precious, and something we all got a chuckle out of. Its true story working idea makes it more endearing than usual but the cast is what pulls it all together. How everything comes together at the end may be a bit of a cliché but for the most part, the movie does not fall into those sorts of traps. Instead it is a pleasant family drama with an ending that doesn't stop where you think it will. Some may find fault with how it does end because it is more of a what-will-be, than has-been but I took it in stride and accepted it as a promise of a brighter future for a family, healing from grief in a healthy way - and its ending is one you can write yourself. Unless, you have an adverse reaction to zoo animals, see this one. It's not at all what you might think, definitely a five-star keeper.
Maybe you have to be in the mood or have had a similar life experience or have just been around too many uses of the word `whatever' that spill out all over the place in an attempt to cover up real feelings, but WE BOUGHT A ZOO is touching. Yes it gets a bit sappy at times, but so doe life. But in the end if you let yourself go with the flow of this true story based on Benjamin Mee's memoir you will end up feeling the pleasure of hugs again. Aline Brosh McKenna joined director Cameron Crowe in adapting the book as a screenplay and it works.
Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) has recently lost his wife to cancer. Always a lover of adventure as in the journalistic form, he sees the newspaper world crumbling and his life of grieving overbearing and in a bid to start his life over, and against the advice of his older brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church) he follows a new realtor (J.B. Smoove) with his young daughter Rosie (an absolutely captivating Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and purchases a large house that has a zoo. Benjamin and Rosie are delighted, but his young frustrated and failing student son Dylan (Colin Ford) is not happy about it. The zoo is need of renovation and Benjamin sets about the work with the head keeper, Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), and the rest of the zoo staff - MacCready (Angus MacFadyen), Robin (Patrick Fugit), Lily (Elle Fanning). But, the zoo soon runs into financial trouble. The staff must get the zoo back to it's former glory, pass a zoo inspection, and get it back open to the public.
In addition to the challenges of the new adventure of owning a zoo, Benjamin must face the reality that his deceased wife is to remain only a sweet memory, must deal with Dylan's anti-social behavior and budding awakening to girls in Lily, must deal with the nauseating inspector Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins), and gradually become at one with his zoo animals and that responsibility as well as his attraction to Kelly who gives him advice on how to relate to his sullen son Dylan ("The secret to talking is listening'). How it all works out is expected but endearing.
This is a strong cast, well directed, and continues Cameron Crowe's tendency to pluck at the heartstrings. Now is that so bad? Don't think so. Grady Harp, April 12
on May 7, 2014
I thought this would be a nice story about a family who worked together to run a zoo, but the distasteful language inserted into the otherwise delightful animal tale ruins the movie for me and my family. I am sorry that I paid good money for a bad movie.
on September 9, 2012
It was my own fault for not reading up on the reviews before watching this with my kids. More bad language than I thought there'd be for a PG movie. Lessoned Learn, but still a wonderful film.