Movie Review: We Bought a Zoo
Well, what can you say? It has a zoo, the zoo has animals—and not just local ones like the raccoons and possums they had at the petting zoo across the street from my house growing up—this zoo has lions and tigers and bears and giraffes and snakes and whatnot else. It has Matt Damon as widower writer Benjamin Mee, who’s lost his inspiration following the death of his wife. It has his two kids, the broody Dylan and the cwutesy-poo Rosie. It has Scarlett Johansson as the sexy zookeeper and Elle Fanning as the pretty tween. It has Thomas Hayden Church as the slightly antagonistic brother. It has some clumsy metaphors and John Michael Higgins essentially reprising his role as Wayne Jarvis (the consummate professional lawyer from Arrested Development), had Jarvis stopped practicing law and taken up zoo inspection.
It has all the tropes you’d expect from a movie like this, spooned out like crippled-baby-monkey food: the cloyingly sweet scenes, the romance, the heart-to-hearts, the doubt and then the big opening day, the strange and semi-pandering backstory between one of the keepers and his arch-nemesis the zoo inspector, and all the cheap laughs.
Though, for its 124-minute running time, there’s surprisingly little conflict. Just Matt Damon moving sporadically from subplot to suplot—trying to make good with his kids and half-heartedly woo Scarlett; coming to terms with the death of his wife and refusing to put the old tiger down. Ostensibly the meatier plot was supposed to be a family drama, but somewhere the script lost interest in the story it thought it was supposed to be telling and decided to just settle for being about a man and his zoo. Who’s fault is it? I didn’t read the book it was based on, and I haven’t seen too many of Cameron Crowe’s movies, so there’s not much I can comment on there.
And does it matter? I honestly didn’t expect much, and I wasn’t disappointed. It doesn’t strive for much, it goes off in some mildly interesting tangents, and I guess that’s fine. I actually admire that there’s no malice or cynicism to the film—after seeing so many mediocre films this year with snotty or nasty attitudes (the truly repugnant Divide comes to mind), We Bought a Zoo is a welcome change of pace, even though it fails to impress. The characters are all good natured, if somewhat underdeveloped, and I kinda liked Scarlett as the zookeeper and laughed at some of Church’s lines.
It doesn’t have to be much more for what it is. This is basically the movie any sweet, old grandmother can take her young grandchildren to, and everyone can come out happy enough in the end. It’s paced well, there’s no real suggestive or offensive themes (but man, I could stare at Scarlett in those jeans all day), and no scary parts. There’s better ways and films to spend an afternoon, yeah, but there’s a lot more worse. Oh, and it has a funny poster, too.
We Bought a Zoo is rated PG. Directed by Cameron Crowe. Written by Aline Brosh McKenna and Cameron Crowe. Based on the book We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee. Starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Hayden Church, Elle Fanning, John Michael Higgins, Angus Macfayden, J.B. Smoove.