We Bought a Zoo

Unwanted Enclosure


21 December 2011| No Comments on We Bought a Zoo     by Sean Chavel


Sappy, faux heartwarming, and rings false even though it’s based on a true story. We Bought a Zoo tells the story of Benjamin Mee, a widower with two children who buys a dilapidated zoo despite zero experience with farm animals. I have never not enjoyed Matt Damon in anything he does, with his infinite facial tic transformations and mimicking body language, but Damon has never been more his generic self than he is as Mee. He’s warned not to take on the zoo, but he does, with Scarlett Johansson as the nerdy zookeeper. Cameron Crowe (“Jerry Maguire,” “Elizabethtown”) directs with the aid of his iShuffle (soundtrack includes Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder, Led Zeppelin, Kanye West, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel). Mostly though, the movie is rambling and obstacle-riddled, the kind that want you to say, “Oh no, don’t let that unlikely circumstance happen to these good people.”

Family dysfunction has a huge schematic role in this Crowe film. Benjamin is still not over the death of his wife, his son Dylan (Colin Ford) is a self-pitying troublemaker whose attention-starving impel shouting matches, and his daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) who… just wants everybody to be happy. Benjamin’s brother (Thomas Haden Church, an aging smart aleck) tries to warn of looming financial ruin. There are flu shots, and medication, and food supply needed in order to care for the tigers, bears, peacocks and whatever else. Animal shots are injected into the film prosaically, like they’re housewarming ornaments. But close up, Damon does get sneezed on by a bear.

I know, it’s trying to be a simplistic family film that can be embraced by everybody. I just don’t think you learn much about zookeeping, the business aspects are unconvincing, the romance subplots are rehash, and I think it is dangerous to put in a scene where kids are heedlessly consorting with snakes. Also, one of my least favorite actors John Michael Higgins (“The Break-Up”) plays a spiteful federal inspector.

Yes, it’s based on a true story. But the real Mee runs his zoo in Dartmoor found in the southwest of England. His backyard acreage looks a lot more like a regulating zoo than the California locales used in Crowe’s shambles of a movie.

124 Minutes. Rated PG.


Film Cousins: “Brewster’s Millions” (1985); “Funny Farm” (1988); “Elizabethtown” (2005); “Duma” (2005).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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