Sunday, April 15, 2012

We Bought a Zoo: Movie Review

 

Walks the Hollywood line but is sweet, funny and enjoyable.

“We Bought a Zoo” is a family movie. And I’m going to make that distinction very clear. A children’s movie is family friendly but is enjoyed by children and pretty much only children. A family movie is family friendly and can be enjoyed by anyone and is meant to be enjoyed by everyone. This film is pretty much the only example that comes to mind and that just proves how rare it is. 2011

Directed by: Cameron Crowe

Screenplay by: Aline Brosh McKenna and Cameron Crowe

Starring: Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson

The reason such an oddball, simple story like a family owning a zoo works on more than just a silly level is because Cameron Crowe is a talented filmmaker who knows story structure. The story here is that Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) has just lost his wife to cancer and is struggling to raise his two children. After problems at school and in their neighborhood, they look for a new adventure. His seven year-old daughter loves it (of course!) and her many excited exclamations provide the movie’s title. It’s also based on a true story.

The comedy is of a sweet nature rather than animal silliness (as one might expect) or screwball annoyances. It gets dramatic as we examine the father-son relationship and with the life-changing decisions that come after you buy a zoo. I really was on the edge of my seat hoping the zoo would be a success. Normally one wouldn’t question that, but Crowe has the ability to write smart movies. Here, however, he has a less talented co-screenwriter and the story never did go as far or reach the inventive heights as I had hoped. It was still good but it walked the line that Hollywood has drawn.

One of my reasons for watching this was Thomas Haden Church, but I have no idea why they insisted on giving him the worst, cloying lines with nothing else of value. At least John Michael Higgins is consistently funny in supporting roles. Despite the attractiveness and star power of Damon and Scarlett Johansson, young Maggie Elizabeth Jones was the highlight. Her uninhibited joy and pure need for innocence is what made this so enjoyable.


Recommended:

Win Win (2011) - Great characters looking for something in life and "Win Win" just might be that something.