We Bought a Zoo

Directed By: Cameron Crowe

Starring: Matt Damon, Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning, Colin Ford, Scarlett Johansson, and Desi Lydic

The holidays inevitably bring lots of attempts by Hollywood to make heartwarming films.  More often than not, they're a bunch of sappy crap, but every once in a while, a good family film is made that's both stirring and realistic.  When I heard acclaimed director and screenwriter Cameron Crowe was tackling the story of Benjamin Mee in We Bought a Zoo, I thought moviegoers might be able to get one of those rare, enjoyable family flicks.  Having seen it, I was mostly right.

Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is a widower whose wife (Stephanie Szostak) died six months ago.  Benjamin, his son Dylan (Colin Ford), and his daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) are looking for a fresh start.  The main problem is that Benjamin sees his wife in everything everywhere he goes around town.  Also, Dylan is having some issues grieving the loss of his mother and starts acting out in school as a result.  By doing so, he manages to get himself expelled. 

With these issues at hand, Benjamin decides to quit his job as a reporter and buy a new home.  It just so happens that the house he purchases comes with some complications mandated by the state of California-- 200 animals for which he must care.  With the help of zookeeper Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson) and the few remaining zoo employees, Benjamin begins working to refurbish and reopen the Rosemoor Zoo.  Meanwhile, Kelly's cousin Lily (Elle Fanning) falls hard for Dylan.

There's a good news-bad news scenario for We Bought a Zoo in that I have both positive and negative things to say about the film.  Naturally, I'm going to rip the band-aid off and go for the bad news first.  We Bought a Zoo is limited by the fact that it's a family film and is entirely too predictable.  Benjamin bought a zoo and fights to reopen it risking everything.  That's not hard to figure out.  After a few gin & tonics, I would still be able to tell you the plot of the movie based on the trailer.  Also, every family flick has to have some overly sentimental moments, and they will get on your nerves at first.  The good news is that Cameron Crowe builds a solidly entertaining film around the limitations of the family movie genre with the help of a stellar cast.

Cameron Crowe has a talent for making character-driven films, and the Jerry Maguire director lives up to his reputation in We Bought a Zoo.  Despite the fact that the film's plot is about a grieving widower buying a zoo full of 47 different species, the movie centers on the personal struggles of Benjamin and Dylan.  They are grieving the loss of a lover and a mother, and they are each trying to find a way to move forward with their lives.  This grief and the struggles that accompany it fuel the film more than the animals do.  Crowe successfully pulls off a heartwarming, personal family film.  Having a cast that includes Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, and Thomas Haden Church certainly doesn't hurt.

Cameron Crowe's We Bought a Zoo gets a 0.06% rating.  With solid acting, plenty of drama, and lots of laughs, Crowe delivers an enjoyable flick for the family.  It's a family film though, so there are still those inevitable corny moments.  Have a glass of Sauvignon with this one.