Saturday, March 24, 2012

Movie Review - We Bought a Zoo

The premise of We Bought a Zoo sounded very cute and the previews made me laugh. I almost took the kids to see this movie a couple of times, but instead we saw the new animated flicks of the moment. Finally, through a strange turn of events, I ended up going to see this with my wife.

I knew this was based on a true story and thus expected at least some level of sentimentality but I was surprised at how "head on" this film addressed some of the harder emotional/relationship issues.

For those who don't know, the premise isn't just that some eccentric young buck (Benjamin, as played by Matt Damon) decides to spend his inheritance and buy and update a run down zoo. It's not the whimsical slapstick comedy somebody might expect from the Kevin James movie Zookeeper (which I still haven't seen, but I'm pretty sure it's not a good comparison to this one).

Rather, Benjamin is a man broken down by the recent death of his wife and trying to find purpose and direction for his own life but also for the life of his two kids. His early teenage son, Dylan, is not only going through the angsty stand-offish teenage phase, but he's also trying to deal with the death of his mother. The young daughter, Rosie is super cute and adorable but also going through her own strain as she tries to take on a motherly role for Benjamin and Dylan. There were many scenes where Rosie really stole the show for me…she is so cute.

Benjamin buys the zoo almost as a sort of last resort "shock to the system" therapy to force his family back to normal and help them all move on. Once he buys the zoo though, he also takes on the baggage that comes with a run down zoo on the verge of being closed down by the US Society of Zoos (or some such regulatory agency). Before long he's not only struggling to hold his own family together but also to keep the zoo afloat and keep his new "zoo family" alive and well (and the "zoo family" is a lot of fun).

There were a few places where the movie might have risked falling into the realm of overly sentimental. But instead I felt like the performances, writing and direction helped make these scenes feel very realistic and heartwarming. I truly felt for Benjamin as he broke down and cried. I ached at the struggling relationship between father and son. By the end of the movie, I was really rooting for Benjamin to somehow pull everything together in spite of everything going against him.

Knowing that this is based on a true story made it all the more amazing to me. The writing was fun and clever. The acting was fabulous (so many awesome performances) and the story is emotionally charged without becoming cheesy. It's a nice feel-good movie that will pull at your heartstrings.

4 out of 5 stars

Today's Quote from Quoting Quotes:



Brian Miller said...

i really enjoyed this movie...that being said, it is not truly a kids movie and does not deserve its PG rating...for days after my son was asshole this and that and there was too much adult language for it to be PG...

Okie said...

True. It definitely wasn't as kid-appropriate as the whimsical previews would have you believe.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Someone else reviewed this movie earlier in the week and really enjoyed it as well. Good news for me, as my wife really wants to see it.