Sweet, Funny and Inspirational
Animals in movies often attract a special audience. Throw in an interesting story and solid cast members such as Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Haden Church in We Bought a Zoo, and it’s the perfect formula for family entertainment.
Benjamin Mee (Damon), a dedicated family man, suddenly faces life-changing events in his life. He and his two children Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and Dylan (Colin Ford) are barely past the death of their mom when Ben must change his career path at a newspaper. He’s also confronted with Dylan’s bad behavior at school.
Looking for a way out of everything, Ben sees a simple solution after learning that a zoo is for sale in California. With little more thought than how much Rosie loves animals, he plunks down the money his family left him, loads up the kids, and the move is on.
What Ben finds at Rossmoor Animal Park is a zoo with animals requiring attention, a business unable to get a license to open until repairs are made, and a house that needs renovating. He meets Kelly (Johansson), the zookeeper, and relies on her to get them settled in. Rosie, of course, loves the animals and takes on her own projects to help out. Dylan is still a problem even though Kelly's niece Lily (Elle Fanning) tries to bring him out of his shell.
Eventually money is almost gone, and the irritable local inspector (John Michael Higgins) has made sure Ben and Kelly know he will not be approving the opening of the zoo. Kelly -- who becomes more committed to the zoo and its animals as well as to Ben and his family -- rallies her crew to dig in and get the work done. Ben’s brother (Thomas Hayden Church), an accountant who advised Ben not to buy the zoo, realizes Ben made the right decision for his family and comes to help as well.
We Bought a Zoo is a delightful and charming story based on the real occurrences of Benjamin Mee as told in his novel. Cast members are exceptional, with each one bringing his/her own strength to the film. Even though his fans love Damon in action films, he’s also great in movies with heart. He easily makes the audience feel his plight and love for his children as well as admiration for trying to finish what he starts. The growing relationship between Ben and Kelly is fun to watch, with director and co-writer Cameron Crowe and co-writer Aline Brosh McKenna not overplaying it. Crowe also does a great job directing.
Johansson is subtle in the role of a woman handling a lot on her plate. All three young actors are great to watch. Jones looks adorable and steals every scene she’s in. Ford, a huge TV star, handles his role as a problem teen with enough angst to make every situation believable. Fanning (Somewhere) appears charming as Lily, who acts giddy about Dylan until he doesn’t respond to her allure. These kids really keep this plot moving.
Parents should be warned concerning several scenes about the youngsters and Ben dealing with the death of their mom and wife. Overall though, We Bought a Zoo is a sweet, funny and inspirational movie.
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated “PG” for language and some thematic elements.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.)