Tigers and Lions and Bears: Oh My!
It’s easy to come up with reasons to make fun of We Bought a Zoo. The title, for one, is perhaps the most ridiculous in recent memory. The premise, although true, is laughable. To round it all out, Scarlet Johansson plays a frazzled zookeeper – and not the Halloween costume sexy kind. Leave it to Cameron Crowe though, genius of Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire fame, to take these elements and create the most heart-warming film for every demographic.
Recent widower and former adventure junkie Benjamin Mee (Damon) moves his family to a zoo in an effort to bring them together. It’s a simple plot, but the delicacy with which Damon portrays a man trying to hold his family — and his life — together makes it more than fodder for Twitter jokes. Mee’s son is failing out of school, and his daughter is the cutest on-screen kid since Ray Boyd. The zoo needs serious renovation before it can be operational again — much like the family who bought it.
Perhaps the most heartfelt performance of the film comes from thirteen-year-old Elle Fanning as a homeschooled zoo helper who falls hard for Dylan Mee. She’s graceful in a way that generally comes with age while still owning the young adolescent beguiling smile. The love story between the two young characters would have been saccharine in the hands of any other director, but Crowe makes it ring true.
Haden Church, as Mee’s brother, plays deadpan to perfection and makes sure to remind the viewers that no one in the film is taking him or herself too seriously. The actors, it seems, want you to enjoy the film yourself as much watching it as it seems they must have making it.
Were there elements to this Zoo that came across as somewhat cloying? Naturally. This family bought a zoo filled with camera-ready animals to restore a sense of closeness, after all. One scene where Matt Damon tries to talk to a grizzly bear seemed particularly forced. For the most part, though, the true sweetness of the story comes through.
We Bought A Zoo is the perfect holiday movie — there’s no gore, no violence. There’s heartbreak, but for each character (tigers included), the promise of a new start. Nothing says Holiday Season, after all, like zebras.
Starring: Matt Damon, Thomas Haden Church, Scarlett Johansson
Directed By: Cameron Crowe
PG, 124 Minutes
Reminds Us Of: Jerry Maguire
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