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TOP 500 REVIEWERon December 25, 2011
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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon April 1, 2012
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.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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on February 28, 2016
While the movie was cute and based on a true story and certainly worth a family viewing I am irate that I pay for a Prime subscription and still have to pay to watch an "older movie". This is absolutely the last time I watch any "pay to watch" from Amazon. In fact I may be canceling my Prime Membership as I'm not ordering as much stuff as I use to but kept it so I could watch some different movies but since I have to pay extra for them what's the need for Prime. Prime Membership isn't that great any more.
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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.
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on September 4, 2015
this movie was a little sad, but the highlight of the whole movie was the precocious little 7 year old daughter. she made the movie worthwhile. the acting was fabulous. the cast was wonderful and matt damon can make any movie great. it really was a feel good movie. there are lots of great scenes and conversations. we can all learn from strong family ties. an outstanding movie
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VINE VOICEon May 16, 2015
I rarely buy DVDs any longer because it is so easy to watch most movies on Amazon or Netflix without buying them. But occasionally I see one, like We Bought a Zoo, that I like so much I want to add it to our collection. I did purchase We Bought a Zoo on DVD.

Based on a true story this was a good family movie, although the younger ones wouldn't be able to follow the subtle meaning behind some of the dialog which was very important to the overall story. Our smart five year old wouldn't get it. I'd think 8 to 10 years old and up might be a better age. The story has a grief theme as the mother of the children has passed away before the story begins. That thread runs through the movie and is the foundation for the entire story.

I have several movies with Matt Damon but I feel this is his best role.

This is a heartwarming family movie with light touches on the problems that arise during the story. The story is totally believable, and it's packed with a great cast. I always like Thomas Hayden Church who had a smaller role in We Bought a Zoo.

Movie making is all about the director. A director can totally screw up a good story and acting, or can bring a poor story to life. Cameron Crowe did a bang up job on this one. I think he may have squeezed a bit more out of a decent story than most directors could have.

This isn't an animal-centric movie so don't expect that. It's much more about the people and their struggle to make the zoo work. It's fairly predictable but for me that's okay for a family film. There are lots of light touches for a good chuckle.

Why not 5 stars? I reserve that rating for nothing but the best movies. While this is a great family film it simply isn't a match for some of my true favorites (Shawshank Redemption, Casablanca, that sort of thing).
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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 -
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