Set in Southern California, a father moves his young family to the countryside to renovate and re-open a struggling zoo.
Year 3, Film #17
THE GOOD: Above all things, We Bought a Zoo is a feel-good movie. Every once and a while you just want to watch a film to bring a smile to your face or lighten up your mood after a bad day and this is a film that can do that. Cameron Crowe (who also directed Jerry Maguire) displays his talents here quite openly. He establishes the characters well, provides context for the main conflict, and includes just enough fighting to ensure the ending is knocked out of the park with positive thoughts.
Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is the guiding light to this movie as the new owner of a local zoo. He’s now in charge of tens of species of animals and a handful of support staff, something that’s entirely new to him, and it’s his job to make sure everything runs in working order. That’s very much Damon’s job in the film as well; he helps set up the other characters to reach their full potential. And while no singular character really steals the show in this film, it’s truly a team effort in every sense of the phrase, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), the seven-year old daughter of Benjamin hits a solid ten on the cuteness/adorableness factor. She does what every little child does best and that is speak her mind. While Benjamin might be making all the decisions and be the owner, it’s Rosie who influences her father with that smile, carefree attitude, and kindness just as she does to you the viewer.
The story itself is also a very basic feel-good plot. Benjamin looses his wife and then buys a zoo to try and help his children and go on another adventure for himself to take his mind off his loss. The zoo has it’s fair share of problems as does his son Dylan (Colin Ford) who constantly is getting into trouble as he tries to cope with his mother’s passing. It has the right amounts of happiness, sadness, and hope, in the right order, to equal a satisfying and positive ending. I can guarantee that at least some part of this film will bring a smile to your face.
THE BAD: While the film does succeed at its intended purpose and is an effective feel-good movie, there really isn’t much else going for it. As I said, besides Rosie, there really is no standout performance amongst the cast. There is a wonderful scene between Benjamin and Dylan a little more than halfway through the film that really stuck out, but other than that, the film feels forgettable. I don’t feel like this film will stick with me for long after I post this review. Not being memorable doesn’t make this a bad film, but if you think about any of your favorite films, all of them probably evoke some sort of memory that you can recall from watching it. We Bought a Zoo provides a temporary entertainment fix, but fails to hit the long-term mark of greatness.
An area that could use a bit more focus in particular is the backstory element to the film. There’s a lot of effort put in to try and explain what the Mee’s mother was like and the effect she had on them all. It’s definitely a necessary part to the film because it provides the basis for much of our emotional investment but some parts seemed to have been half-assed. Benjamin’s brother Duncan’s (Thomas Haden Church) involvement bordered on pointless. He provided some comedic relief and was always fun to watch, but his main reason seemed to be for keeping Benjamin on track and making sure he did something his wife would be proud of. Instead, he came off as a bit arrogant and self-centered, which provided those laughs, but also detracted from the emotions surrounding the wife. Some more of the stories about the mother like the one Benjamin tells at the end about how they met could have also been very beneficial.
THE TAKEAWAY: We Bought a Zoo is a great film to watch on a rainy day or whenever you’re feeling in the dumps. It’s a sure way to bring a smile on your face and feel good about yourself as you watch Benjamin take control of his life and find that 20 seconds of courage to follow his heart and do what is right. This film may not have the lasting power as all classic films do and have it’s fair share of issues, but not all films need to be like that. Every once and a while you need a film for a specific moment, not one to add to your all-time favorites list, and We Bought a Zoo is exactly that film. Because, why not?
THE RATING: 3 out of 5