Movie Review: We Bought A Zoo (2011)

“sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage”

There are few movies which are able to remove cynicism from their quotient completely and wear their values on their sleeves for all to see. Cameron Crowe’s adaptation of the true story of how Benjamin Mee took his family and took over this struggling zoo so as to try and inspire his children to get themselves out of this weird place they found themselves in after losing their mother six months prior.

Like The Descendants we find ourselves in a story that we see a father a bit out of his own depth having lost his partner is life and having to figure out how to press on. Unlike The Descendants though we aren’t there to see this man just grieve, but we get to see him after that point where he’s still having trouble with imagining a world without the love of his life and at the same time having to manage his children and not implode in the process.

Unable to figure out how to get his family to move on from this tragedy Benjamin (Matt Damon) decides to quit his job and move house to somewhere new that will remind them (most importantly him) the least of who they lost. This leads them to this countryside zoo, which of course Benjamin barely considers before buying.

This movie is actually a perfect blend of two of my favourite film this year. It’s what you get if you take the dramatic arcs of The Descendants and mixed it perfectly with the optimism and earnestness of The Muppets and poured it into a wonderful family friendly glass for consumption.

The film’s true emotional arcs remain between Benjamin and his son, Dylan (Colin Ford). Both dealing with the loss of their wife and mother respectively in their own way and at the same time we see Benjamin trying so hard to make it ok for Dylan to express himself. Everytime Dylan acts out you can see Benjamin holding in his natural reactions to the situation and trying to be understanding as he himself knows what kind of understanding he himself requires.

Otherwise the film delivers a slew of colourful fun characters to enjoy when we’re not ready to tear up at our main characters personal dilemmas. From Peter MacCready (Angus Macfadyen), the genius in “enclosure designs” who has to deal with his visions being stolen (apparently) by his nemesis, to Duncan (Thomas Haden Church) being the brother who you love but don’t trust to take advice from most the time, to eventually Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) who’s the wonderfully passionate head of the zoo that happens to be downright gorgeous.

This is a film that won’t work for everyone, especially a lot of those brooding “emo” people who only believe gritty realism is needed to make a movie good, and I don’t expect it to. However, for the chosen few who believe that authentic honesty and beautiful tales that do more than just remind us of the good things in the world exist that don’t have to feel heavily weighted by coincidental screenwriters this is the film you’ve all been waiting for.

Rating: 9.5/10

  • Dan O’Neill

    Nice review. Without Cameron Crowe on the director’s chair, or the whole cast that this flick assembled, I honestly think this would have been just another cheesy, schmatzly, and way too sentimental pic. However, it’s heart is in the right place and I found myself fairly pleased leaving the theater.

  • Andrew Robinson

    ye, Crowe definitely helped tame it from it’s own family laden plot.