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Review for We Bought A Zoo

A widower moves his troubled son and carefree daughter to a run-down house and zoo in the Southern California countryside in an attempt to make a fresh start in their lives.

An Adventurous Animal Spirit

3.5 out of 5 popcorn buckets

Director: Cameron Crowe

Writers: Aline Brosh McKenna, Cameron Crowe, book by Benjamin Mee

Cast: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Elle Fanning, Thomas Haden Church, Colin Ford, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, John Michael Higgins

SYNOPSIS: A widower moves his troubled son and carefree daughter to a run-down house and zoo in the Southern California countryside in an attempt to make a fresh start in their lives.

REVIEW: The last major film project brought to the masses by Cameron Crowe was the so-so 2005 Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst Elizabethtown. The Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire writer/director returns to the big screen after six years to bring us the story of writer and adventure junkie Benjamin Mee who moves his kids out to the Southern California countryside to fix up a run-down zoo and fix up his relationships with his son and daughter. 27 Dresses and I Don't Know How She Does It scribe Aline Brosh McKenna assists Crowe to Americanize Benjamin Mee's book.

In the Benjamin Mee book, he uproots his wife and two children to the English countryside to fulfill his dream of refurbishing a zoo. While making repairs to the property, his wife falls ill with a brain tumor and passes away. In the film version Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon, Contagion) has already lost his wife to her illness and struggles to handle his morose son Dylan (Colin Ford, Push) and spirited daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Footloose (2011)). When Dylan is expelled from school, Benjamin decides to uproot his family and move them into a house that sits on a property that includes a dilapidated zoo with hundreds of exotic animals. Seeing the possibility of an adventure that could reconnect him with his son, Benjamin sinks all of his savings into the zoo, its animals, and the staff in an experiment that may leave him and his family in financial ruin. Benjamin's accountant brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church, Sideways) tries to talk Benjamin out of the project at every turn, but Benjamin pushes on with the help of zoo keeper Kelly Foster (Scarlet Johansson, Iron Man 2), her niece Lily Miska (Elle Fanning, Super 8), Robin Jones (Patrick Fugit, Almost Famous), and enclosure designer Peter MacCready (Angus Macfadyen, Braveheart). Standing in their way to success besides money and a proper zoo re-opening is MacCready's nemesis and USDA inspector Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins, Bad Teacher).

We Bought A Zoo is a tender and real portrait of the lengths a father will go to keep his fractured family together and safe. So many can relate and reflect on the aftermath of the tragic loss of a loved one. Matt Damon does his utmost to bring gravity to every hard decision his character needs to make, while keeping the spark of hope alive. Together with Colin Ford as his angst-ridden son forced to the countryside zoo and Maggie Elizabeth Jones as his wide-eyed adventure-ready daughter, Damon unites the audience on their journey. Scarlet Johansson excels as the hard-working but sensitive zoo keeper, desperate to keep thriving the animals she has spent years caring for. But the humans are only part of the story.

As the Mee family tries to hang on to their fragile family, they still need to try and get a rundown zoo in good enough shape to pass inspection for a grand re-opening. Rosie decides to foster the hatching of peacock chicks. Benjamin takes on the responsibility of the care of an aging and ailing Bengal tiger, projecting his own frailties onto the large cat. Dylan, on the other hand, withdraws to his sketchbook to pour his feelings onto its pages through pencil and marker.

Lions, tigers and a bear, oh my! We Bought A Zoo will keep you rooting for the Mee family and the zoo staff throughout. Can father and son work out their differences? Can Benjamin come up with the fortitude and finances to get the zoo running again? Walk a mile in a bear's paw prints to find out.

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Jenn December 27, 2011 at 05:26 PM
So what bothered you to lose 1.5 buckets? I'm going to see this and I'd like to know what didn't make it 5-buckets-worthy.
Chuck Ingersoll January 21, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Jenn, 'We Bought A Zoo' was cute and heart-felt, but sometimes the pace slowed, and the odd not insurmountable enough. I rooted for the Mee family to succeed but knew, in the back of my mind, there was no way they couldn't.
Jenn January 21, 2012 at 08:32 PM
aah - got it. Thanks!
Chuck Ingersoll January 21, 2012 at 09:11 PM
'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' is definitely a worthwhile film with 4.5 out of 5 buckets. I probably should be more generous, but a 5 bucket movie would have to be earth shattering.

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