We Bought a Zoo
Bring tissues: You’ll sniffle (happily) at the new Matt Damon vehicle We Bought a Zoo.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Director Cameron Crowe casts a heart-warming cinematic spell that will milk many a tear from its widespread target audience. However calculated to meet the demands of family-friendly holiday movie fare, We Bought a Zoo does everything it sets out to achieve.
Matt Damon is likeable as ever as Benjamin Mee, a father of two attempting to reinvent his family after the recent loss of his wife. Benjamin’s 13-year-old son Dylan (Colin Ford) is acting out at school. Dylan draws disturbingly violent pictures of things like decapitations and weird monsters. He’s been caught stealing. Seven-year-old Rosie (played wonderfully by the scene-stealing Maggie Elizabeth Jones) is emotionally better equipped to deal with the shifting reality around her. It goes without saying that, against conventional wisdom, Benjamin quits his job and purchases a rundown zoo.
The rural facility’s 40-odd endangered animals face the threat of being put to sleep unless Benjamin can make the necessary renovations for the zoo to pass inspection. John Michael Higgins adds comic appeal as Walter Ferris, a quirky zoo inspector widely disliked by the staff. Scarlett Johansson coasts through her role as zookeeper Kelly Foster, a dedicated young woman whose undeniable beauty causes simmering romantic tension with Benjamin. Indeed, romantic suspense is one of the film’s trump cards. The anti-social Dylan tries to avoid the noticeable chemistry he shares with the zoo’s youngest assistant Lilly (Elle Fanning). His failing attempts at skirting love’s arrows give the movie a youthful sense of nostalgia that runs parallel to its idyllic sense of wonder regarding wild animals.
As with all of Crowe’s films music plays an important part. Although the film slips into music video sequences from time to time it’s difficult to challenge the director’s pitch-perfect ability for matching contrasting yet complimentary pieces of rock music to the tone of the action at hand. Aside from songs by Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, Crowe tapped Icelandic singer/songwriter Jónsi from Sigur Rós to compose original music. The formula works like a charm.
Without having even seen the movie, New Yorker magazine film critic David Denby famously slagged We Bought a Zoo in emails to producer Scott Rudin regarding Denby’s faceplant decision to break a film review embargo on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Such kneejerk critical reaction to solid holiday entertainment speaks volumes about corporate media’s attitude that Hollywood is left to questionably interpret. As if there wasn’t already a dearth of G and PG-rated films, Denby’s malicious remarks reflect a damaging ideology of cultural condescension.
We Bought a Zoo never pays quite enough attention to the incarcerated wild animals we hear so much about throughout the story. The predictable climax comes across like so much melted peanut butter. Still, the movie wins in its ability to create a glow of giddy movie pleasure that audiences crave.
WE BOUGHT A ZOO (3) • Directed by Cameron Crowe • Starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johannson • Rated PG •124 min •At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas, Lighthouse Cinemas.