We Bought a Zoo (2011) directed by Cameron Crowe, starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Haden Church. This is based on the memoir by Benjamin Mee, and is adapted by Crowe and Aline Brosh McKenna.
Synopsis: Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is struggling with his son Dylan (Colin Ford) and daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) since the death of his wife from cancer. He feels like he is constantly being pitied by everyone around him, and Dylan has been expelled from school making things worse. As a result, he decides to look for somewhere new to live for a fresh start. After finding the perfect location in the countryside, he is ready to make an offer. However, there is one thing about this property that he does not know about – it is a zoo.
Sceptical Benjamin decides he does not want to take it because of this – that is until he sees Rosie playing with some animals. She looks happy, which causes Benjamin to buy it. The zoo needs a lot of work, and will cost a lot of money to be in the condition needed for opening. Benjamin’s brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church) tries to dissuade him due to the work involved.
Benjamin inherits the zoo staff who were there previously, which is where he meets zoo keeper Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson). The staff assist Benjamin get the zoo back to the condition needed for re-opening, and ultimately help him through the difficult times he has been faced with.
This film has a lot of heart, which comes down to the writing and performances from the cast. Throughout the story, Benjamin is coming to terms with living without his wife who was clearly the love of his life. He is struggling with certain things, for instance visiting the diner they met for the first time. The viewer sees the strain the death is having on him, and this helps us root for Benjamin as a character. We also see some nice character development when he is finally able to visit the diner towards the end of the story. I have been a fan of Damon since Good Will Hunting (1997) and he plays this role perfectly.
I was also impressed by the performances of his children. Ford plays the troublesome teen Dylan well, and Jones brings an air of cuteness and wit to the role of Rosie. Johansson is likeable as Kelly, and Church adds some nice humour to the proceedings as Benjamin’s brother.
There is a nice subplot between Dylan and Lily Miska (Elle Fanning) who is one of the zoo keepers. There is some parallels drawn between Benjamin and his wife with those two, and it is nice to see their relationship blossoming as the story progresses.
I enjoyed this film, and was taken in by the fact this was based on a true story too. There are some differences between the filmic and real life events that have clearly been tweaked to make this more fitting for the screen. However, these differences ultimately make this a more enjoyable story.
Check this out.
By Robert Spence