We Bought a Zoo stars Matt Damon, Colin Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones as the titular “we” who buy a run down zoo and turn it into a home and family.
Benjamin Mee (Damon, looking older and fatherly) is father to teenager Dylan (Ford) and seven year old Rosie (Jones). When rebellious Dylan gets himself expelled from school, and Benjamin quits his job, he decides it’s time to get away from all the places that remind him of his recently deceased wife… and ends up with a zoo. Not as crazy as it sounds, the film is based on a true story.
A zoo. A seven year old’s dream, a 13 year old’s nightmare, and itself close to closure, the place is saved by Benjamin, his small staff – including love interest Scarlett Johansson – and his dead wife, who left him with the wise words “why not?”
Fear not, the things that go wrong don’t include all the animals dying, you’re safe to leave the tissues at home – well, you might want a couple. Benjamin is instead plagued by money problems – he never said he knew how to run a zoo, it’s not his fault – a fallen tree and the Big Bad, the inspector who would like nothing better than to shut them down (is there any other kind?).
Why not indeed. The animals announce they’re there before the estate agent does, and the decision to buy is made in the time it takes little Rosie to jump up and down and shout “yay!” I didn’t time it, but it might have been 20 seconds…
The kids, for once, aren’t unrealistic. No teenager is going to be happy about being dragged away from civilisation, and may well take his mother’s death badly and turn on his father. A father he shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss, as his lesson that you only need “20 seconds of courage” is what helps him stop being a surly teen and get the girl.
A seemingly superficial film on the surface, it isn’t without its messages and does a good job of not coming across as preachy. Things you might learn:
The animals are kept in enclosures, not cages, and after an escape, Benjamin decides that some animals need even bigger spaces.
It only takes twenty seconds to say “why not” and be courageous; you might get a family and/or a zoo out of it.
If you work hard enough, the rain will go away for you and the people will come – but you have to be prepared to do your part. And if you make a good enough film about their story, the real family might even come for a cameo and be the first family there.
It might not send you running out to buy a zoo, but if you’re looking for a fun, slightly predictable family film, We Bought a Zoo is a good alternative.
I’m willing to admit that 4/5 might be a little harsh, but it really was rather predictable… and I speak as someone who isn’t usually very good at guessing what’s going to happen. If you prefer being able to understand your films more than Inception-level confusion, though, it’s perfect.