We Bought a Zoo

“We Bought a Zoo” is the heartwarming story of a father and his two children, who are struggling with the death of their wife/mother. When the boy is expelled from school, the father knows that they need to move, in order to get a fresh start.

The dream home they come across, however, has a unique set of challenges.

It’s a zoo.

In an act of impulse/courage/stupidity/serendipity, the father (played by Matt Damon) decides the place is exactly what they need and makes the purchase, in spite of the fact they know nothing about running a zoo, and the fact that the zoo is in a state of disrepair.

To steal one of Damon’s own lines, “Let the healing begin!”

“We Bought a Zoo” is Cameron Crowe’s first directorial effort since 2005’s “Elizabethtown”. Crowe, of course, has a string of classics under his belt, including “Say Anything”, “Jerry Maguire”, “Singles” and “Almost Famous”. He also wrote each of those films, along with the 1980s comedy classic, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. He adapted this movie from the 2009 memoir by Benjamin Mee entitled “We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals that Changed Their Lives Forever”

I mean, that title pretty much says it all doesn’t it?

That’s ok, I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “spoiler” in regards to this movie. Damon is a stand up guy who desperately wants to do the right thing by his kids, if only he could figure out exactly what that is. The little girl is adorable. The animals are a handful, but the family somehow manages. There’s a pretty female character about the same age as each of the two main male characters, so you know there will be a little romance sprinkled in. There will be shots of sunlight shining through trees and lots of animal montages interspersed with smiling humans, all set to sentimental classic rock. Only songs twenty years old or older need apply.

The “conflict” in the movie comes from multiple sources. The Zoo needs fixing, the animals have issues, the family is stretching their finances, the father and son are having trouble relating to each other, and Damon’s character is still really hurting over his deceased wife.

If there’s an issue I had with this movie it’s that its an extraordinarily safe movie. You just know that this isn’t the movie, say, where there’s a shocker car accident that kills someone, and as “troubled” as the teen is, there isn’t going to be a suicide scene or anything. Not that any of that would make the movie a better movie or anything, but the movie is utterly free of anything even remotely edgy. It’s a movie that waits for the crosswalk signal to turn in its favor before crossing an empty street. For example, I put the fact that the teen is troubled in quotes a couple of sentences back because while I was watching, the thought occurred to me that this kid is “troubled” in a way that 99% of parents of REAL troubled teens would kill for. I could imagine my own mom, for example, watching this when I was 14, thinking, “Oh God, if only…” LOL He’s like troubled lite.

No one will win any acting awards, I wouldn’t say, but they all do fine jobs. Damon does a great “Everyman”, and Scarlett Jo is solid as the determined zookeeper. The little girl does a great job as the requisite “cute kid”, and in a good sign foe Elle Fanning, I can easily see a difference between the character she was playing here and the girl she played in “Super 8″. Acting! There’s also a couple of funny supporting characters who provide some of the comedy; Thomas Haden Church as Damon’s naysaying brother, and John Michael Higgins as the super-stickler licensing official.

So it’s safe, and it’s predictable, but it’s not boring. It’s fun and its sweet and it’ll make you laugh at the right times. To his credit, Crowe keeps the syrup to a minimum. In the end you wind up with a movie that’s funny in spots, cute in others, and heartwarming throughout. Say what you will about Crowe, but he has a knack for making a “sweet” movie.

B+

18 thoughts on “We Bought a Zoo

  1. Aside from loving the artwork for the posters for this movie, I reckon I’ll wait to see it on my good ol’ fashioned telly box. Sounds like a “nice” film. When I say nice, I mean nice to sit curled up on the sofa and enjoy the good naturedness of it all.

  2. I know I’m probably completely out of line here and also wAy out of my league with you all knowing so much about all these movies that I haven’t even heard of before
    but I just want to ask the question, Is a movie still nice if it’s nice in quotes?
    It doesn’t feel like a corporate movie formula at that point?

    • You’re not out of line.. There is no “line” LOL. Fire away at any time.

      On your question, no, I didn’t mean the ” “s to be… overly derisiive. I wouldnt necessarily call the movie formulaic. The whole Zoo element gives it a unique context and setting and everything, so it never feels cookie cutter or run of the mill.

      Plus its very well done. I dont think there’s anything too spectacular or super memorable anywhere, but its definitely a very entertaining movie. I dont think anyone who goes will be disappointed.

  3. Sounds like a new category, “Movies My Mother Would Love”! All kidding aside, there is always room for that movie formula: heart warming, family, comedic, kids and animals, with an off center plot (the zoo). All movie goers have a soft spot for these types of movies, when done well. I predict it will gain momentum with an older demographic and become very popular.

  4. So, here’s my question: I’m a huge fan of Cameron Crowe, especially because of his particular sensibility with music. He has probably the very best ear for music of any Director today, but nothing I’ve read about this flick, your review included, even mentions the music. Is it bland? Invisible? Irrelevant? Dischordant? Just there?

    • Not going to be considered amongst his best soundtracks.

      I know what you’re saying, too, the man has had a way with music choices. “Singles” is still the greatest soundtrack ever.

      But here? I mean, it’s fine, but I have to confess I thought the tunes were all feeling a little old… And nothing really stood out too much either, although I admit I was humming NY’s “Cinnamon Girl” afterwards

  5. Good to see a positive review for this. From the trailer, I was afraid it was going to be too saccharine and melodramatic. Looks like it might be worth a watch after all…

  6. hmm, better safe than sorry rarely pays off,

    Glad to know you enjoyed it still…especially with my wifey in it! ha. and the little girl does look to have an adorable part in the film. I’ll see this, but probably as a rental soon.

    • Ha. Yeah, I was a little disappointed that S Jo’s part wasn’t a littl emore challenging… would have loved for this to have been like an awards consideration type movie for her.

      Alas.

      And the girl is certainly adorable. Her enthusiasm is contagious.

  7. I know I’m a bit late to the party LOL, but I just saw this on DVD last night. Such a sweet movie…the quintessential “feel good” movie. It tugged at my heart strings in all the right places, made me laugh, made me tear up without bawling. A perfect family movie & love the “20 seconds of bravery” line/moment. I’ve seen better from Crowe, but I was not disappointed!

    • It’s been while since I’ve seen it, and I do think it was good. I think my major issue with it was it was so safe and predictable you basically KNEW it was going to work out well.

      That “20 Seconds” line is a great line, too. That’s like an all time great line. Aside from that it was good, but not awesome Glad you dug it though. :D

  8. So, this finally came around on cable, and I’m enjoying it quite a bit more than I thought I would, but I definitely agree that its quite a bit lighter than it might be. Also the convenience of the match ups… there just happens to be a beautiful woman for both the father and sun, and they’re both available, and… well, you know.

    But still, an enjoyable and well made film.

    • Heh. I got sucked into watching the last half hour just then myself. :D

      It’s all going to depend on people’s forgiveness of the schmaltz. It is pretty well made, but its safe and sentimental too. In movie less well done, that kind of stuff slays me. Here, Crowe knows his art. Lol

      That was my exact thought too first time I saw the two females I was like, oh! Isn’t that convenient! :)

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