"Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." -Inception

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Movie Review: We Bought a Zoo

Cameron Crowe's We Bought a Zoo has a pretty self-explanatory title.  A journalist, Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) who loses his wife to cancer, buys a rundown zoo in the country and relocates his children there.  Of course, it's not as simple as moving in and settling down.  The family dynamics have been a bit strained since the death of Mee's wife.  His young son Dylan (Colin Ford) is constantly acting out against him, even getting expelled from school, while Benjamin's goal is just to see his son and his young daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) happy.  

That's easier said than done as the realities of running a zoo take over.  The grizzly bear escapes into town, a crate of snakes is delivered to their garage, an old tiger needs extra care and the zoo needs to be opened to the public in the summer.  Is it all possible?  This is a movie, of course, so the answer is yes.  The Mees and their staff lead by Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson) do get it together in the end to pass inspection and open the zoo.  The cast of supporting characters don't get much screen time as the focus is on Benjamin Mee and his children.  But somehow I kept expecting something more to occur onscreen.  There were no surprises, this is a pretty straightforward film.  And then there were the usual cliches.  The head zookeeper Kelly will, of course, fall for Benjamin as will her young cousin Lily (Elle Fanning) for Dylan.  In fact, Fanning along with Crowe favorite, Patrick Fugit as Robin Jones, are not used well enough in the film.    

The screenplay was written by Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada) and Crowe himself.  The dialogue is incredibly earnest and there are some lines that I loved, when Benjamin advises Dylan, "...sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage.  Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery.  And I promise you, something great will come of it"  I wanted to see more of these moments onscreen and the ending does promise to more of those moments but they will likely occur offscreen.  

The film is based on the real Benjamin Mee and his book, We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo and the 200 Wild Animals That Change Their Lives, about his experiences of running the Dartmoor Zoological Park in Dartmoor, England.  It is extraordinary experience that one day someone could just decide to own a zoo and would definitely change the way you look at life.  Matt Damon carries the film well as man still stuck in his grief over his wife's death and trying to move forward and care for his kids.  Being a adventure journalist, he takes an impulsive and huge life decision in buying a zoo.  The film is well meaning and sincere and I think Cameron Crowe fans might enjoy it.

Directed by Cameron Crowe; Screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna and Cameron Crowe, Based on the novel by Benjamin Mee; Cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto; Edited by Mark Livolski and Original Music by Jonsi.

Additional cast: Thomas Haden Church, Angus Macfayden, John Michael Higgins, Carla Gallo, Stephanie Szostak


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