A movie that could have easily been a gooey, saccharine mess, We Bought A Zoo is, instead, a well-acted, well-photographed true story. Based on British journalist Benjamin Mee’s autobiographical book of the same name, We Bought A Zoo introduces us to Benjamin (Matt Damon), a journalist who is trying to cope as a single father with two children who cannot accept the death of his wife.
Once he buys the zoo for his family, Benjamin has to get it in shape to be licensed as a zoo and to be an attraction that will, indeed, attract visitors. Benjamin’s brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church) has been the supportive adult in the tragedy of losing his wife and he, ultimately, comes around to agree buying the zoo isn’t a bad idea at all.
Benjamin’s son Dylan (Colin Ford) is a 15 year-old and, as 15 year-olds do, he wants to go back to the suburb where they used to live. But, then, he meets Lily (Elle Fanning) who is at the zoo in the care of her aunt Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), the zookeeper. Dylan ultimately decides it’s not so bad there either. Benjamin’s seven year-old daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) verges on the too sweet, but she is adorable and seems a natural actress.
The movie was directed by Cameron Crowe (Jerry McGuire, Almost Famous, among others) and he keeps it an adult enterprise, paying attention to Benjamin’s sadness and to the people it impacts.
Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is lovely. The animals are beautifully photographed in a manner reminiscent of the wonderful Disney animal docs of years ago.
In all, We Bought A Zoo is really a film for the entire family. It is a nice story about nice people. And that is — dare I say it? — a nice thing these days.