Although it debuted in time for the Christmas holidays, “We Bought a Zoo” is still going strong in theatres. The title gives away the main premise of the film, which is loosely based on a true story. I had high hopes about the movie because it was directed by Cameron Crowe, who has made big splashes in the past with movies like “Almost Famous” and “Say Anything.” As much as I wanted to like “We Bought a Zoo,” the truth is that this film will appeal to few people who are below the age of 10 or so. Its saccharine-sweet plot and formulaic characters reduce its likability a lot, and its all-star cast can’t rescue it.
To be sure, “We Bought a Zoo” has a high-wattage cast. Matt Damon plays Benjamin Mee, the main character. Thomas Haden Church plays his brother, who disapproves of the moves that Ben makes throughout the film. Ben has been recently widowed and is somewhat out to sea. In an effort to bring renewed meaning to his life and the lives of his two children, Ben randomly decides to buy a zoo on the outskirts of Los Angeles, which might as well be Timbuktu. He packs the kids and their belongings up and throws himself completely into the project of reviving the decrepit zoo.
Ben’s venture is helped along considerably by the presence of the perky, attractive zookeeper, who is played by Scarlett Johansson. Johansson’s rapport with Damon is evident, and the two actors do everything they can to breathe life and excitement into the film. Unfortunately, their valiant efforts largely fall flat. In a convenient twist, Johansson’s zookeeper is assisted by her teenage niece. This helps to reduce the scorn of Ben’s son and keeps everyone relatively content. Ben’s little girl is absolutely thrilled by the entire situation, and she brings plenty of enthusiasm to the situation.
No film would be complete without a struggle of some sort, and that plot device comes in the form of a malicious inspector. The inspector will not rest until he sees the zoo’s gates shut for good. Predictably, his efforts are met with boundless enthusiasm and determination, and it’s not difficult to guess what happens in the end. Although Crowe attempts to inject heartfelt scenes into the movie, they all come across as contrived and uninspired. The main problem seems to be that the film can’t decide if it’s strictly meant for kids or for the whole family. In the confusion, a lot is lost in the translation.
“We Bought a Zoo” has its flaws, but it’s still a worthwhile movie to watch at home. It should be noted that the truly story upon which the film is ostensibly based actually took place in Britain. In real life, the zoo was located in Devon. It is unclear why Crowe chose to switch the location to Los Angeles. If the film had taken place in Devon, it probably would have had more charming results. If you’re looking for a fluffy movie to watch on a lazy evening, you should give this one a try.
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VD is a frequent guest blogger and likes to blog about home cinema systems like which DVD recorder to buy, the tv to watch your films on and other necessities like toffee popcorn.