Stories that have plots “inspired by true events” can go one of two ways. The first is either more of docu-drama that is far too technical and biographical to be really entertaining, and the second option is an uplifting story that inspires its viewer. We Bought a Zoo is the latter.
We Bought a Zoo (2011) Film Review
He’s been on a plane that went straight into the heart of a hurricane, interviewed world leaders in war-torn countries but nothing prepares Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) for the loss of his beloved wife and the responsibility of raising his two children without her at his side. A year ago the family of four was a happy, typical American family; six months ago they said good-bye to a wife and mother. Now, Benjamin is tired of sympathy. He cannot stomach the pitying attention he and his children get.
His brother, Duncan (Thomas Hayden Church) encourages Benjamin to get out more and “interact” with people but when his fourteen-year-old son (Colin Ford) is expelled from school, Benjamin sees this as the call to change. With a fresh start in mind, he and his precocious seven-year-old daughter, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) begin looking at new properties until he finds one that is exactly what his family needs – only problem is, the backyard is quite literally a zoo!‘We Bought a Zoo’ (2011): A Family Story with Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! #FWarchives #MattDamon Click To Tweet
Though painfully underrated, this is a really sweet film. There’s a lot to admire regardless of a premise that seems uninteresting when compared to some of the blockbusters that clamor for “first place” at the box office. One of the way this script most impresses is the humor. Not only is it pretty funny (more on that later) but this is sure to tug on our heartstrings in a way that still makes us smile. The direction is equally dynamic. There’s multiple scenes where the set-up is fabulous; the simplicity in them is not too sappy but yet has a beautiful familiarity. They’re the best kind of scenes that remind of realistic life. It’s this quality that so endears the film, and connects with its audience.
What helps to convey this is the acting. Damon is a first-rate versatile actor, and he does not disappoint in this role. Seeing him play a father is one of the best roles he’s had to date; and the way he relates to his on-screen children is precious. Then there are the child actors; Colin does an admirable job but it’s young Maggie who steals every single frame she is in. She’s like a miniature adult who’s still an innocent in the best sense of the word. Scarlett Johannson is also another familiar name in this film. It’s nice to see her in a role more “cute” than fierce, and her chemistry with Damon is memorable albeit one more of tender emotion than “sparks” of romance. (It was also a pleasant surprise to see one of the rotating “squints” from Bones in a supporting role.)
We Bought a Zoo is the surprise movie of the year at my house. My whole family found it precious, plus something to make us laugh. How everything comes together at the end may be a bit of a cliché but for the most part, the movie does not fall into those sorts of traps. Instead it’s a pleasant family drama with an ending that doesn’t stop where you think it will. Some may find fault with how it does end because it is more of a what-will-be, than has-been but I take it all in stride and accept it as a promise of a brighter future for a family. I definitely recommend this one. It’s not at all what you might think, but is a five-star keeper.
You can find We Bought a Zoo digitally on Amazon Video
Content: there’s some mild language [h*ll, da*n, there is a use of Jesus Christ] and crude comments [a man is called a d**k]. There is one or two mild sexual innuendos; Duncan encourages his brother to have a fling with a woman, a man ogles Kelly [another person tells her the man “lusts” her to which she informs she won’t take one “for the team”], and there is a nude photo of a pregnant woman [arms strategically placed]. One scene has a bunch of snakes littered across the lawn. Adult characters drink in the evenings but are never depicted as “drunk.” The film is PG.