Director/writer Cameron Crowe was at the top of his game when he continuously released some of the most iconic movies to date, including Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky. However his boom went bust when Elizabeth Town flopped. After a seven year hiatus, audiences have been anticipating his recent light-hearted venture, We Bought a Zoo.
The project is based on a true story, adapted from Benjamin Mee’s memoir, We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Changed Their Lives Forever. There are alterations from the real event and the film, for example, Benjamin’s wife was alive when they bought the zoo. Those who have not read the book may still be familiar with the tale as in 2007 there was a BBC 2 mini-series documentary, entitled Ben’s Zoo, which showed Ben and his family revamp the Dartmoor Zoological Park.
Journalist Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is distraught after the death of his wife, Katherine, leaving him the sole guardian of misunderstood teenager, Dylan (Colin Ford) and seven year old, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). When Dylan is expelled from school after three suspensions Benjamin quits his job to live the adventure, rather than research from afar. He wants to give his children a fresh start and some wise life lessons by escaping from the memories of Katherine. This means packing up and leaving the city for the country to live in a large house where their back garden is a zoo. Why do this? Why not? On arrival the family are introduced to the zoo staff, led by Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson). The group join together to save the animals and reopen the zoo for the 7th of July, whilst trying to reach the strict standards of zoo inspector, Walter Ferris.
Like most Crowe films, the characters lead the story. Where he fails is that there are too many characters, meaning only protagonist Ben is given the right amount of depth to really make an impact.
The dialogue at the beginning of the film is quite artificial, but this does improve as the story progresses. Matt never fails to put on a good performance and unsurprisingly here he is believable as the father who is trying to reconnect with his kids and deal with his wife’s death. However, Scarlett Johansson is not given enough screen time to really divulge into her character. Some scenes between the two either go straight to the point, or they never get to the point. Crowe has effectively displayed the woes of Dylan, who spends his time drawing sinister images, through realistic confrontations between him and his father. Rising star, Elle Fanning, proves she is advancing in on her older sister, Dakota Fanning’s, footsteps with her genuine performance as Dylan’s cute love interest.
Although the family’s grief is meant to link with the story of the zoo, they instead seem separate and detached, even though it is clear they are meant to affect each other. However, one too obvious connection is between the dying tiger and the broken Ben. Despite this Crowe has been successful in capturing the gorgeous nature of the park. Not a lot of time is given to the animals in the zoo, but it is enough to keep the animals fully entertaining, especially when there is a jam packed soundtrack blaring in the background. The film may be exceedingly long and predictable, but it is difficult not to become absorbed into the Mee’s flight.
As expressed throughout the film, the journey towards opening the zoo was the true adventure that the Mee’s were searching for. The movie may not be Crowe’s best, however it offers a heartfelt delight that will be enjoyed by all of the family.
By Danielle Shields