We Bought a Zoo

PhotobucketMatt Damon is Benjamin, a widower who is grieving over the loss of his wife. He struggles to nurture a happy family with his two kids: perky and precocious 7-year-old daughter, Rosie and moody, 14-year-old son Dylan who registers one emotion, annoyance. Benjamin looks for a fresh start in a new home by purchasing one in the country with 18 acres. Additionally it happens to house a zoo that comes complete with its own staff. The agreement stipulates the owners must care for all of the animals on the property. If only Matt and his family can return the neglected zoo to its former glory, then perhaps they can all be happy again. I know that doesn’t follow, but just go with it.

Much of the story involves our sweet kindly, dear old Dad, trying to get the zoo open and ready for business on time. It’s a setup so manipulative, you’d swear it was a screenwriter’s device. But We Bought a Zoo is actually adapted from the autobiographical memoirs of writer Benjamin Mee. The based on fact undoubtedly adds some credibility to the events. Unfortunately the production is so annoyingly twee. The swelling melodies that hammer the emotional cues of every scene doesn‘t help. Apparently the director thinks the audience needs assistance in understanding that when positive things happen, it’s a good thing. This is the mistake of a rookie, not an established talent like Cameron Crowe who was once a rock journalist for Rolling Stone during his teen years. His knack for meaningful song selections is well-established which makes the overbearing musical numbers even more depressing. There’s also mean old Walter Ferris, the zoo inspector, who’s responsible for administering a strict zoo inspection before they can open to the public. The costume designer forgot to give him a handlebar moustache to twirl each time he does something nasty. And let’s not forget that cute moppet of a daughter who cheerfully chirps “We Bought a Zoo!” like she knew it would be the title for this film.

Cameron Crowe is a respected director of renown. I’ve seen his engaging best work: Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous and then I behold something like We Bought a Zoo.  I’m shocked this is the creation of the same filmmaker, the narrative steeped in cliché and mediocrity. It’s exceptionally cloying and sentimental.  I suppose if you insist on adding a few heaping teaspoons of sugar to your maple syrup pancakes, the script might not seem so overly sweet.   We Bought a Zoo isn’t a horrible picture. It’s heart s in the right place as it seeks to entertain through a schmaltzy family friendly PG film. But it falters in even doing that, The movie could’ve easily been rated G, but at one point his 7 year-old daughter tells the inspector “You know, everybody here thinks you’re a d—.” Out of the mouths of babes.

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12 Responses to “We Bought a Zoo”

  1. I really didnt like this one at all Mark. It’s probably one of the worst film’s I’ve watched recently. Great review man but I rated lower than this.

    • The saccharine quality didn’t make it reprehensible for me, just irritating. But I understand where you’re coming from. My opinion is closer to yours than to people who adore this film…and there are some.

  2. There was a scene near the beginning where Matts’ daughter is playing with some birds and he’s over-looking the zoo. I felt his emotion, and thought, I’m gonna love this movie. But that faded quick. Too cute and annoying. The little girl was so fake. I did not think she was good at all!

    • That young actress is Maggie Elizabeth Jones and she was in Footloose as well – the 2011 remake obviously. She’s clearly one of those precocious child actors that have been groomed in the Hollywood machine since birth. So unnatural.

  3. My ten-year-old sister loved this one when she visited it at the theater…but I guess I’ve already made clear that I can’t trust her views as far as films. I did end up seeing part of this while I was at writing camp over the summer, and my curiosity instantly died. I don’t remember much from what I saw…just a lot of “uh”s and “um”s and “this is my son and daughter”s etc.

    Great review. I’ll continue to avoid this one.

  4. I have avoided this for reasons I can’t even explain. When I saw a commercial or had a chance to see it I would turn it down. Just like Alexander, my nine-year-old brother loved this. I might see this sometime, but your review hasn’t made me eager to seek it out as of now. Great review though.

  5. Awesome review. I haven’t gotten around to watching this one but I actually read the book it was based on, which is probably the most boring thing I’ve ever laid eyes on.

    • Dartmoor Zoological Park is a 30-acre zoological garden located in England.

      I had to look up the actual title of the memoir: We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals that Changed Their Lives Forever. Even the title sounds labored.

      • It’s just… the story is not big enough or interesting enough to fill a whole book and Mee’s style isn’t the best and the writing is very technical. I don’t see anyone out of the zoo business enjoying it.

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