We Bought a Zoo
Cast: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Hayden Church, Elle Fanning
El Camino '14
"If my doctor told me I had six minutes to live, I would type a little faster" - Issac Asimov
We Bought a Zoo
Review By: Jordan Nicholson
People have become more cynical in recent years and, consequently, so have our movies. Today’s movies are darker, reflecting our own mind shift towards the world we live in. Some genres have evolved, even bettered in many ways, while others have not kept up with the times and have been largely forgotten. Probably the worst of these “genre fatalities” are the family movies. Now when I say “family movie” I don’t mean Kung Fu Panda or Madagascar or Ice Age. Those are kids movies, aimed at the age 3-10 demographic. While I have nothing against such movies I do not consider them to be family movies, ones that I can enjoy as much as my mother and younger siblings. These are getting harder and harder to find and as a result I don’t watch many movies with my mother anymore.
That is probably what I liked most about We Bought a Zoo. Here is a movie so squeaky clean that I cannot imagine anyone taking offense to it. Matt Damon plays Benjamin Mee, a widower who quits his job and moves his family to a rundown zoo. As he prepares the zoo for re-opening, he struggles to connect with his children and to deal the loss of his beloved wife. Taken at face value, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before, and likely the only reason anyone went to see it was because of director Cameron Crowe. Knowing that the film is safe in his able hands, people didn’t think of it as a kid movie but as “Jerry Maguire with animals”. I’m sure the marketing team was very grateful.
The acting was good, and felt authentic. The cast was careful to keep things light and simple, and though I appreciated that overall, I found that this often worked against the film. It seriously underutilizes its main actors, Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson. Damon nails the part of the single father, and Johansson plays a quirky love interest that would put Zooey Deschanel to shame, but when the film ends you find yourself wanting something more from them. You want more character development, more flaws in them to overcome. There was potential for the both of them to be amazing, but it just wasn’t quite there.
Another problem I had was the lack of animals in this movie about a zoo. I was curious going in to see how a zoo is run, maybe even learn some zoo secrets, but honestly there were hardly any animals in it. Instead the zoo (and the animals that live there) act as more of a backdrop, one that could easily have been switched out with another. Honestly, they could have called it We Bought a Burger King and changed almost nothing about the story. Now one could convincingly argue that the film is not about the zoo, but the
But please don’t listen to me. I over analyze these things way too much (it’s why I’m good at my job). The important thing for you as a reader to know is that everyone can enjoy this movie. It is easy to watch and to understand, and you won’t have to worry about language or thematic material for any younger viewers. Even better, you won’t be trying to claw your eyes out the whole time because it’s actually a good movie. So you should see it, even if you think you might hate it, because you won’t.
The special features are numerous but lack substance. I didn’t find them to be very compelling, but at least it doesn’t have any of those god-awful kid’s games. There’s a commentary you’re not going to watch (I know I didn’t), some deleted scenes, a behind the scenes feature and a look at all the animals that show up occasionally in the movie. Enjoy.