Film: We Bought A Zoo
Starring: Matt Damon
Director: Cameron Crowe

Returning to the silver screen six-years after Elizabethtown failed to make the cultural impact many had hoped, Cameron Crowe is targeting families everywhere this holiday season with We Bought A Zoo. Based on a true story and lead by an impressively empathetic Matt Damon, the film strays from Crowe’s glory days, but packs just enough schmaltz and feel good vibes that most will never even notice.

Six months after his wife’s death (following a lengthy battle with disease), Benjamin Mee (Damon) decides he and his two children need a change if they are ever going to move on with their lives. He seeks a place outside of the city, which he finds without much trouble, but it is what lies in the property’s backyard that sets our story into motion. There, amongst overgrown hedges and cornfields, lies a zoo in need of much repair. Against the appeals of his brother Duncan (Thomas Hayden Church), Benjamin decides to purchase the property, sink his money into the zoo, and start life anew.

Things this insane are never simple though, and Benjamin soon finds the struggle of resurrecting a zoo may be much more troublesome than he imagined. Between the costs of repairs and upkeep, the need to maintain (and pay) the skeleton crew of zookeepers (lead by an underutilized Scarlett Johansson), and the demands of being a single parent, Benjamin finds himself stretch to the breaking point. He must find a way to hold himself, as well as the pieces of his broken life and new commitments, together.

While the main storyline throughout is restoring and reopening the zoo, Crowe wastes almost no opportunity to get sidetracked with poorly written workplace gags, depressed and/or dying animals, and attempts at family growth and cohesion amidst a new, misunderstood environment. This inflates Zoo to a running time over two hours, far longer than any “family film” should be, and makes the film’s focus feel more blurred than anything else. It is clear that Damon needs to let go and move on, but somewhere amidst his daughter yelling the phrase “We bought a zoo” and his teenage son not realizing the only female remotely close to his age (or in the movie in general) thinks he’s cute, it all gets lost in a mesh of half-hearted attempts at sentimentality.

Like any Hollywood adaptation, We Bought A Zoo strays far from the source material. The original Mee bought the property while his wife was struggling, not already dead, and his family lived in France, not Southern California. Beyond that, this writer is unaware just how much changed, but We Bought A Zoo offers dozens of run-of-the-mill plot twists and turns that leave are sure to you wondering if anything more than title and outline was lifted. Nevertheless, even with all it gets wrong, Cameron Crowe and crew hit enough of the right notes to make this one worth your time.

If the epic tale of a horse in war and/or Glenn Close in drag does not sound like the perfect family outing this Christmas, We Bought A Zoo offers more than enough harmless joy to make children smile, but stays grounded enough for adults to enjoy as well. It is not groundbreaking, deep, or metaphorical in virtually way, but it offers plenty of warm thoughts and sunshine to make winter slightly less miserable and sometimes, that is all you need.

Review written by: James Shotwell (Follow him on Twitter)

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One Response to “MOVIE REVIEW: We Bought A Zoo”

  1. Her brother says:

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