After the death of his wife, Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) looks for a new start and a new home for himself and his kids. Benjamin soon finds their ideal home, but it comes with a catch; the beautiful house set in lush green fields us actually a zoo. Benjamin and the zoo staff take on the challenge of making the zoo fit to open, while Benjamin repairs his relationship with his children.
We Bought a Zoo is the latest film from Cameron Crowe, and carries all the hallmarks that we have come to expect from the director; the story is sweet and heart warming, the film boasts a fantastic cast and the soundtrack contains wonderful songs. Matt Damon plays a father coming to terms with the death of his wife, and learning to deal with young daughter and his teenage son on his own. Damon is sweet and gentle and brilliantly portrays a man whose life is falling apart, no matter how much he tries to hold it together. Benjamin bonds with an ailing tiger, and pours out his problems while talking to the animal. The inevitable fate of the animal brings back all of the fear and upset that Benjamin felt during his wife’s illness, and it is only through his acceptance of the tiger’s death that he eventually comes to terms with the death of his wife. This is a rather obvious plot device but it works well for the character.
The supporting cast provide much of the humour; Angus Macfadyen plays a zoo worker who has a hatred for the zoo inspector Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins) and his frequent rants are a pleasure to watch. Thomas Haden Church plays Benjamin’s brother Duncan, and does his best to dissuade the Mee family from getting involved in the zoo and Patrick Fugit plays Robin, a zoo worker who carries a monkey around on his shoulder. Elle Fanning plays a young zoo worker who has a sweet romance with Benjamin’s son Dylan (Colin Ford) and DB Smoove goes some way to making up for last year’s dreadful Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer with his role as an enthusiastic real estate agent.
Scarlett Johannson plays Kelly; head zookeeper and eventual love interest for Matt Damon. It is obvious from the moment these two meet that their mild flirtation is going to lead to something more – the same goes for Fanning and Ford – but this does not mean that there is not a sweet relationship. Kelly grounds Benjamin as he is prone to get carried away with the romanticism of the task they have undertaken. Kelly is a refreshing change for Johannson, as she is the most relatable and ‘normal’ character she has played on screen for a long time.
Cameron Crowe always finds the vein of sentiment that runs through any story, and We Bought a Zoo is no exception. This is not a bad thing, and the film manages to balance the sentiment and the story without ever becoming saccharine sweet. The film is based on a true story, and there is an innocence to We Bought a Zoo that is endearing and creates the warm heart at the centre that makes the story work. As for the soundtrack; songs from Cat Stevens, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan all make appearances throughout the film and add another layer to the rich story on screen.
In all, We Bought a Zoo is a sweet and involving story that will leave a smile on the audience’s faces. There are moments which are predictable, and the final scene is perhaps a little overdone, but this is a family film about a family’s problems and in that respect, it works.