“We Bought A Zoo” – Review by MovieManMenzel

An amazing film about life, courage, strength, death, and dedication

After watching the trailer for We Bought A Zoo, I had a mixed feelings about it. It looked like the typical family film with animals and since there have been so many films with animals lately, I was a little leery about this film being more of the same. However, knowing that both Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson were in the film that gave me some hope, not to mention the fact that it is directed by Cameron Crowe. At least to me, Cameron Crowe has always been a solid film maker minus the mediocre Elizabethtown, which happened 7 years ago and made Crowe disappear from the cinema world due to how badly it flopped. Needless to say, We Bought A Zoo peaked my interest enough that when I heard about the special sneak preview that Fox was doing for the film, I ran out to see it.

Based on the true story of Benjamin Mee, We Bought A Zoo is about the Mee family who is trying to overcome a tragic loss in their family. Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is still devastated by the loss of his wife Katherine (Stephanie Szostak) and is having a hard time living everyday life without thinking about her. His two children Dylan (Colin Ford) and Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) are also both having a hard time dealing with the passing of their mother. One day, Benjamin snaps and decides that what him and his family need is change and he decides to move away. The family buys a house outside of the city that is attached to an abandoned zoo. This is where the real adventure begins…

We Bought A Zoo is one of those rare family cinematic treats that happens so rarely nowadays. Why? Because this is a movie about people with animals involved rather than a film about animals with people being the subplot. This is not another film about a little perfect family who ventures off one day to buy a zoo instead it is a film that has real depth and heart. The Mee family is dealing with the loss and just like in real life, dealing with death is not an easy thing to face. Dylan is being rebellious and has taken to art to release his emotions, Benjamin is struggling at work and can’t seem to go anywhere in town because it reminds him of his wife, and little Rosie seems to be just confused and sadden by her mother’s death. This family is grieving and just like whenever something bad happens in life, this family is looking for an escape.

Enter the zoo…the family moves to the zoo as a way to get away from it all. Just like in real life, it doesn’t matter where you go, the past is still apart of who you are and that point is illustrated in this film. The bonding that takes place on screen is honest and real. We as audience members are drawn to these characters because we feel their pain and we see what they are going through. The sad reality is that everything that has happened to this family can happen in real life and I think that is why it works so well. It doesn’t hold back on dealing with the subject matter, which can be pretty heavy for a modern day family film.

Its great to see Cameron Crowe back in top form. From the opening scene to the closing scene, this movie feels like a classic Cameron Crowe film and I am glad to have him back. The script is terrific with in-depth character development, but its his direction and use of music that really makes this film pop. The combination of scenes from humans to animals add to this story because its not just a cutesy scene where Matt Damon is yelling at the tiger, but rather a deeper meaning to it about how he is frustrated and is trying so hard to make his life better. The use of music by Jonsi is fantastic and I noticed so many people sat through the end credits just to hear the music.

Matt Damon plays a much different role here than anything I have seen him in before. He is emotional and powerful. Its nice to know Damon, who has always shown such promise as an actor, can play the action star like in the Bourne Identity films and can also play a heavy drama or a star in a family family. He is a really great actor who is very well rounded. The scene in this film between Ben and his son Dylan having an argument is superb. It is raw emotion and you as a viewer feel and get that emotion like its happening to you. Scarlett Johansson absolutely shines in the film. This is her best performance since Lost in Translation and Match Point! Johansson has been in so many hits and misses when it comes to film that its nice to finally see her play a role that truly shows off her acting skills rather than her body. She delivers such an amazing and heartfelt performance here that I hope she gets some kind of nomination for this role. The scene in which she is yelling at Benjamin about the dying tiger is powerful for several reasons, but worked so well due to how Johansson delivered the lines.

As for the rest of the cast, everyone did a phenomenal job, just like Damon and Johansson . Elle Fanning is great and between this role and her role in Super 8, I have no doubt in my mind that she will be going places. Thomas Haden Church adds his quirky and deadpan humor to the film, which gives the audience a little break from all the seriousness. Maggie Elizabeth Jones is adorable and even though is used for the “cute” factor, she still gives a great performance in most scenes. Even John Michael Higgins is good as the zoo inspector, who takes his job a bit too seriously.

In conclusion, We Bought A Zoo made me think that I was going to be watching the typical family fare to learning that I just saw one of the best films of the year. This movie contains no CGI, no animation, no special effects, and no 3D. This is pure family entertainment with none of those elaborate Hollywood effects. This is a film that relies on its story, its director, its music, and its actors to impact the audience. It wasn’t afraid to deal realistic with issues such as death and depression that seem to be absent from almost all modern day family films. We Bought A Zoo is such a change of pace from the normal realm of PG entertainment and I applaud Cameron Crowe for taking on this project and putting so much heart and soul into it. This is without a doubt one of my favorite films of the year. It would be really sad to see this film flop because of how much hard work and dedication was involved with it. Those elements showed in the film and really made it stand out from the bunch. There is no doubt that this film will make you fall in love the Mee family.

MovieManMenzel’s final rating for We Bought A Zoo is a 9 out of 10.

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