We Bought A Zoo

We Bought A Zoo

Static Mass Rating: 2/5
Twentieth Century Fox

Release date: March 16th, 2012
Certificate: PG
Running time: 124 minutes

Director: Cameron Crowe
Writers: Aline Brosh McKenna, Cameron Crowe

Cast: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Colin Ford, Thomas Haden Church

Having dreams is easy; it’s following them that’s the tough part. There’s always someone around to tell you that it’s a terrible idea, to point out what you could lose, and why it won’t work.

Never mind that nagging self-doubt inside of your own head, you know the one I mean. It says to stay where you are, to play it safe; wanting it just isn’t enough. Sometimes, life will give you the jolt that you need, whether you want it to or not.

We Bought A Zoo

Benjamin Mee’s (Matt Damon) big jolt came six months after his wife died. He’s quit his job over the ‘insulting’ offer of a regular online column, and his teenage son Dylan (Colin Ford) has been expelled from school for stealing money. His daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) makes the school lunches. He can’t bring himself to eat any of the lasagnes donated by horny, concerned moms at the school gates, and decides that he needs an entirely new start.

So he buys a dilapidated zoo out in the sticks, and vows to make things better for himself and his family.

As you might imagine, the major themes of the movie are follow your dreams, work hard to make them real and don’t give up in the face of adversity and there is a huge onus on the importance of family and friends.

There are passing mentions to grief and moving on, but these are thickly wrapped in metaphors and sentimentality and don’t strike deep enough to be meaningful or moving. For example, when one of the tigers falls sick, Benjamin must authorise the ‘end of life plan’.

We Bought A Zoo

To begin with, he can’t do it, and insists that they keep trying despite pleas from Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) that he do the right thing. As Ben struggles to admit that he’s losing the tiger, he realises that it’s also time to begin letting go of his dead wife and maybe think about kissing that deceptively attractive head zookeeper…

As a father, Mee is objectively not that great, and it was interesting to see that portrayed on-screen. He spends all of his money on a vanity project and is insensitive towards his son’s grief, leaving Kelly to feed his kids right after she’s finished with the monkeys. Grief makes people do crazy, ill thought out things, and being a father in that position must be insanely tough. It’s a shame that Crowe didn’t take this a step further instead of bottling out and pasting over some real family cracks with a poster of a tiger.

We Bought A Zoo

Elsewhere, I enjoyed Duncan (Thomas Haden Churc) as the slick, disapproving older brother. He had many of the best snippy one-liners about his ex-wife, or his attempt at “finding himself” after his wife left him. The other characters didn’t really seem like people, even Kelly, despite Johansson’s high billing, and this made it difficult to remain engaged.

We Bought A Zoo is similar to The Descendants. In the face of a family tragedy, the remaining members pull together and as a unit they overcome it. But this one doesn’t have the same depth of feeling, or any darkness, or reality perhaps, to counteract the over-sentimentality. Following your dreams is tough work and We Bought A Zoo just doesn’t show that.

About Frances Taylor

Frances Taylor

Frances likes words and pictures, regardless of media. She finds great comfort and escape in film, and is attracted to anything character-driven with a strong story. Through these stories, she will find meaning in the world. Three movies that Frances thinks are really good for this are You and Me and Everyone We Know (Miranda July), I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK (Chan-Wook Park), and How I Ended This Summer (Alexei Popogrebsky).

When Frances grows up, she would like to write words and make pictures and have cool people recognise her on the street and tell her that they really enjoy her work.

She can be found overreacting and over-caffeinated on Twitter @penny_face, a childhood moniker from her grandmother owing to her gloriously round face.