By Jennifer Morris

I’m not generally keen on the crowd pleasing, sugar-coated films director Cameron Crowe usually offers up, but something about We Bought a Zoo touched a nerve with me.

From the title, you might assume this film is about a zoo, and it is, in literal terms.

Benjamin Mee is the protagonist, and also presents the author of the autobiographical British book on which this Americanism is based.

In real life, Mee made the dramatic decision to relocate his young family to an earthy dilapidated Dartmoor zoo as his wife, Katherine, recovered from cancer.

 In Crowe’s take on the story, Mee (Matt Damon) buys the zoo as a fresh start for he and his children, Rosie, 7 (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), and Dylan, 14 (Colin Ford), after their mother passes away.

The film sees the family and the existing team of quirky staff, headed by Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) struggle to bring the zoo up to spec in time for a grand re-opening.

Thus in the face of economic, nasty zoo inspector and meteorological adversity, we follow Mee and co. through their ecological rollercoaster.

However, the zoo premise, although a delightfully whimsical setting for a PG audience – with many an adorable quote from newcomer Jones – merely serves as a framework on which the true story hangs; a family’s attempt at seeing the light again after a very dark time.

From the opening scene, any mental images of Jason Bourne are dispelled.

An aged Damon with floppy hair and a slightly rotund middle gives a truly convincing and moving performance as the grieving Mee as he keeps up appearances for Rosie, whilst engaging in an on-going psychological conflict with introvert Dylan.

I actually sobbed as a bespectacled Mee flicked through images of his late wife, presenting the turning point at which he understands that things are going to be ok.  

Damon’s performance is bolstered by a decent account from Johansson as Mee’s feisty but kind semi-love-interest; and a stirring soundtrack.  

The music cements the mature underbelly on which the zoo theme is overlaid.

Songs from the likes of Bon Iver, and Icelandic group Sigur Rós, along with solo tracks from band vocalist and guitarist Jónsi, epitomise progress and hope. 

Of course, this film won’t be everybody’s cup of tea and there are a few cringe-worthy jokes, although they did seem to get the rest of the cinema laughing.

The story is also a little slow to get going, and at first you’re not quite sure what it is you’re watching.

We Bought a Zoo presents a lovely juxtaposition which few films achieve successfully – a decent watch for both a family audience and adults alone.

About The Author

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema.

  • Guest

    This is a fantastically written review. Is she getting paid for this? Because she really should. I didn’t even watch the film and yet she still has me sobbing into my nachos and lol-ing at her sugar-coated sweetness.