In We Bought a Zoo, Matt Damon plays Benjamin Mee, a journalist and adventure junkie, and recent widower. Now he’s struggling raise Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) — a terminally adorable little punkin of a daughter — and Dyan (Coliin Ford) — a sulky teen who excels at drawing human decapitations. He’s beset by an outpouring of sympathy from a parade of milfs who he politely rejects, even as his avuncular brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church) counsels him to move on.
Out house-hunting with the charming and spirited real estate broker (J.B.Smoove), Mee happens upon his ideal home. It’s rustic and homey and just the thing he and his family need to escape the pain of losing their wife and mother (Stephanie Szostak). Of course, they overlook one tiny detail: the house is part of a decrepit zoo.
Over the half-hearted protests of Duncan and wanting to give his kids an adventure and an “authentic American experience,” Mee purchases the zoo. He inherits its dispirited staff, which includes available adult babe Kelly (Scarlett Johannsson) and available teen babe Lily (Elle Fanning). The staff expects Mee to give up and go home. They’ve seen the heartbreak of false hope before.
There’s plenty of heartbreak to go around in this movie as Mee’s fractured family pulls together with the menagerie of zoo workers and crew of hundreds of exotic animals to give it the old try and make a go of things!
If this all sounds a little cloying and manipulative, it absolutely is. A grieving father! A little girl who is desperate to remember mommy! A teen boy who needs love and understanding! A broken hearted country girl! Beleaguered workers! An slightly-cynical brother in search of his sense of wonder! A fading memory! A dying tiger! A dying dream!
Who knew your heart had so many string? Director Cameron Crowe. That’s who, and he aims to tug every last one of them — all at the same time!
This kind of relentless sentimentalism isn’t what Crowe was once known for, but the movie is still unmistakably his. Though he may go too far in provoking tears, he does deliver many of the one thing we’ve come to expect from his films: a broad cast of diverse, engaging and highly-attractive characters. They may be a heckuva a lot more clever in their banter than anyone you know, but they are undeniable nice to be around for a few hours.
And, though it’s based on the writings of a real life dude who really lost his wife and really bought a zoo (but not in that order), it’s a work of pure fiction. Heck, the real-life authentic American experience actually happened in England.
It’s a formula movie and so meticulously crafted that the rough edges of realism are sanded as soft as the echoing chords of Jonsi’s electronica score. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t make us laugh, or cry, or come away feeling happy and inspired.
While it may be a bit too manufactured for some, We Bought A Zoo should please most in the crowd.