If youíre looking for a movie that defies predictability, then We Bought a Zoo is not the movie for you. This film, like many feel good movies, is much like the formulaic romantic comedies where the audience already knows the ending (boy gets girl!). However, as moviegoers of these types of film also know, itís not the predictable ending that makes the movie enjoyable. In these movies, itís all about the journey. The film We Bought a Zoo manages to take viewers within a funny, sweet, heartwarming (with a touch of melancholy), family story. It is the type of movie that doesnít come around as often as it should and it is one where the journey is well worth the price of admission.
Benjamin Mee, played by Matt Damon, is a seasoned journalist and father of two who is trying to move forward with his life after losing his wife and the love of his life to illness. At the beginning of the movie he realizes that, try as he might, he no longer fits into his old lifeĖ too much had changed and chief amongst them is his fourteen year old son Dylan. Dylanís grief over his motherís death has given birth to deep seeded anger, unhappiness and resentment which he unleashes regularly on his father, a favorite target.
Looking for a new start and a way to keeping holding his family together, Mee quits his job and moves Dylan and his seven year old daughter Rosie out of the city. It just so happens that the one house that really feels like home is part of a package deal. It comes with a zoo. Undeterred, Mee buys the property and with the purchase of the zoo, he accepts the responsibility of bringing it up to code and reopening it in order to save the animals and the jobs of the handful of employees left to care for them. Although it is a big challenge, it is nothing compared to what he faces when trying to improve his relationship with his son or moving past his own pain.
Watching this fractured family is at times poignant, but on balance, there are also plenty of smiles. Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who plays Rosie, is absolutely adorable and then thereís J.B. Smoove, who portrays realtor Mr. Stevens in a small but entertaining role. Scarlett Johansson stars as zookeeper Kelly and Angus Macfadyen plays the larger than life Peter MacCready. Of course thereís a monkey (well, it is a zoo!) who, along with his handler Robin (Patrick Fugit) appears right at home as part of the staff.
The characters learn and grow as they all, including Meeís cynical but likeable brother (Thomas Hayden Church), work together to get the zoo ready for the strict inspection it must pass in order to open. One of the best things about this film, which is based on a true story, is that it is not encumbered with gratuitous life lessons for the audience to absorb. It is, however, quietly sentimental, overtly engrossing and an overall good, family movie. So donít worry about cutting edge, surprising storylines. Just sit back and enjoy it as it is.
*The film is rated PG