CAST: Matt Damon (Benjamin Mee), Colin Ford (Dylan Mee), Thomas Haden Church (Duncan Mee), Scarlett Johansson (Kelly Foster), Patrick Fugit (Robin Jones), Elle Fanning (Lily Miska); DIRECTOR: Cameron Crowe; SCREENWRITER: Aline Brosh McKenna, Cameron Crowe; PRODUCER: Julie Yorn, Marc Gordon; GENRE: Adaptation, Drama; DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox; LOCATION: California, USA; RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes
Technical Assessment: 3.5
Moral Assessment: 3.5
Cinema Rating: For viewers 13 years old and below with parental guidance
We bought a zoo is based on a real story that took place in England. Journalist Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) recently lost his beloved wife and is raising their two children singlehandedly. Seven-year-old Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) is adorable and a breeze to look after but 14-year old Dylan (Colin Ford) is a difficult case, sullen, withdrawn, and causes a lot of trouble in school. Following an impulse to make a fresh start, Benjamin quits his job and decides to move his family away from the city where all the memories of their sweet and happy life haunt them. His house-hunting leads him to a spacious, modestly priced property in a bucolic setting. It would have been perfect, except that it comes with a rundown zoo which is maintained by a handful of volunteers led by Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) who do it out of sheer love for the animals. The new owner of the property would have to take this shuttered down zoo and the animals, including some endangered species.
The title alone, We bought a zoo, would have us expecting comic relief at least half the time. The other half could be spread out evenly among cute animal shots, clever animal tricks, and heroic animal deeds that would all endear wild four legged creatures and other species to humans. But no, the movie has none of those—which is what makes this number most unusually precious in Hollywood’s history of “animal movies”. First, the animals are simply themselves, animals in an animal park, not trained performers in a glittery circus. Snakes crawl, big cats growl. The animals here are low profile, and even when a couple of them have to be deployed, it is done in order to advance the story and not to inject cheap excitement as is done by movies which rely on gimmickry to catch public attention.
This is so because We bought a zoo is not about animals but about persons who discover themselves and one another through experiences that eventually cause their growth. The zoo just happens to be the setting, and the animals, the necessary props for such transformative human interaction to take place. This is about persons—and there is not one person here who can be called a bad guy. There is no villain in this story, not even the fussy zoo inspector Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins) the character that causes the most stress in the others is just there to faithfully do his job, or Benjamin’s brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church) who is not very encouraging of his brother’s moves or decisions at the start. We bought a zoo is definitely family entertainment and has much to say about familial devotion, love of creation and the environment, dedication to work, friendship and parent-child relationships.