Romy Shiller

We Bought A Zoo: Or, Roarrrrrr

In Film, review on February 2, 2012 at 11:21 am

If you wait to do everything until you’re sure it’s right, you’ll probably never do much of anything.

Win Borden

Set in Southern California, a father moves his young family to the countryside to renovate and re-open a struggling zoo.

Director: Cameron Crowe

Writers: Aline Brosh McKenna, Cameron Crowe

Stars: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church

This is primarily a movie for kids but adults have gone… Acclaimed filmmaker Cameron Crowe’s latest film, We Bought A Zoo, is based on the inspiring true story of Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon), an adventure-seeking journalist and single dad, who is looking to give his family a much-needed fresh start and ends up moving to a home situated in the middle of a zoo.

I looked at this film in two separate ways. First, the elements of nature and animals thrill me – this is just great to me. So I liked the theme and setting. Then I looked at the film as a film. In this respect, it was a very standard, straightforward story. Sure, the aspect of moving to live at a zoo is unique but that’s it. It was a sweet movie and I’d bring young kids to see it but unlike Diary of a Wimpy Kid [review ], it lacked pizzazz. The film was fine but kind of flat .The acting was good. I mean, really it was okay, but…

It is very interesting that Cameron Crowe is the director. He says,I loved that it was the human adventure, in great detail, and I felt like I could collaborate with that story.

He hasn’t done anything for several years, since Elizabethtown (2005). That film is considered a flop. I really liked his work on Almost Famous. (2000). I hate to pigeonhole but maybe he should stick to rock movies – he seems to lack focus now.

The elements like cinematography and editing are fine but nothing pushes the envelope. The vast expanse of the wild and the photography of the animals were well-done. If a straightforward kid’s movie appeals to you, I don’t have a problem recommending this film. If, however, you want kids to think outside the box – you might want to re-think seeing this film. On second thought, the aspects of nature, animals and unorthodox living are valuable and it would be up to parents to provide a disclaimer if they so desire.

So, the story here regards two young kids and a man (Matt Damon as Benjamin) who lost his wife, the mother of the children. His son gets expelled from his school and draws dark images – the daughter who is brought along on a house-hunting trip, is enamored by the idea of buying a zoo. Benjamin who knows nothing about caring for animals decides to spend his inheritance on a dilapidated zoo currently run by the state. His son is far from pleased. The issue here is reconciling son and father. I liked the kid as macabre but that’s just me. See, to me, the young boy rebelling is fine but the story champions those who play ball. I wanted Neo but got Preppy-Boy.

Johansson/Kelly plays the zoo-keeper who has a crush on Damon/Benjamin. Elle Fanning is wasted here. She will show us that she is a great actress – trust me! She plays smiley Lily the niece of Scarlett Johansson/Kelly. Ho-Hum.

Scarlett Johansson needs a meaty role. She is okay here but playing a good-looking zoo-keeper isn’t really a stretch for her. She seems to believe otherwise. Too bad for her: Turns out, Scarlett was thrilled to take on a role that’s totally opposite her image of the sultry, sexy leading lady.

Maybe I saw the potential for a different kind of story – set in nature with animals. I believe that most people deserve an alternative to the dish they’re served.

Anyhow, the conflict resides in whether or not the zoo will pass inspection. The inspector is played as evil incarnate or a guy with a chip on his shoulder. Everyone dislikes him and he holds the future in his hands. So the story boils down to his visit and the outcome of that visit.

Damon is believable here and probably wanted to make a film that he could bring his kids to see – something not Bournesque. In an interview about his daughters he said, they were particularly enamored with Crystal, the capuchin monkey. I have a lot of pictures of them with Crystal on their shoulder — which took them a while, to have the courage to let Crystal get on their shoulder. Crystal’s, like, their size, so…  [Laughs

I like Damon but his choice to do this role is obviously motivated. I mean really, he wants validation for being a good dad in this film. This is not a bad thing – it just is what it is.

Critic David Denby of the New Yorker says, Nothing that happens in this movie is in the least surprising, but it’s all quite pleasant and even, at times, moving.

I agree but maybe kids need to be challenged.


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