We Bought a Zoo (2011) Directed by Cameron Crowe. With Matt Damon, Scarlett Johannsoon and Thomas Haden Church.
Inspired by Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon), who once bought a zoo in Devon, England, We Bought a Zoo is one of those Hollywood movies that is very loosely based on stuff that actually happened, mixing up the real facts to make something that has more than a whiff of fairytale fantasy to it.
Quentin Tarantino has been accused of it, but it really is starting to feel like Cameron Crowe constructs his films around an array of soundtrack choices. As is typically the case, Crowe has the luxury of a fine cast to spout reams of ‘life dialogue’. Lines like – “You do somethin’ for the right reasons, nothing can stop you“, which come thicker and faster than you’d expect from a quick browse of your average greeting card stall.
In his central role, Matt Damon is served-up as a salt-of-the-earth type – a single father mourning the loss of his recently deceased wife. He has two kids, one impossibly adorable little girl and a typically angst-ridden, floppy-mopped teen lad. Although the film is increasingly trite as it unravels, Damon is a real credit to the piece, selling his role to the point that, despite a sickly-sweet taste, we are rooting for him. In typical Hollywood-style, Damon doesn’t just get a run-down zoo with a few ailing animals for his money…he inherits a Scarlett Johansson too – Yes (I sat there thinking) he’ll forget about his dead wife in no time.
Away from the goody-two-shoes tone, there is some slight relief in the form of Thomas Haden Church, channelling a family-friendly version of his lothario character from Sideways, but there isn’t nearly enough of him.
The film would be more effective, if it didn’t insist on dictating our emotions to us. All the peaks and troughs are expected to the point of minor irritation. One of the true annoyances of We Bought a Zoo, is that it attempts to create a picture-perfect view of human beings (on two occasions it weirdly points out how humans are preferable to animals), while overdosing us on whimsy and attempting to moralise us into submission. If, unlike cynical old me, you’re bulletproof to all that, it ought to make you feel good. 3/5