December 23, 2011
20th Century Fox
2 hours 4 minutes
Cameron Crowe, the director of films like 'Jerry Maguire' and 'Almost Famous' has made a family movie about a one father's dream to give his kids an authentic American experience by purchasing and running a zoo. At first it may seem like a crazy idea, especially considering the fact that Matt Damon is the star of this film aimed for kids 8 and older. Luckily this is one of those rare occasions where the odd combinations of adult filmmakers/stars that are put into a family film make something magical. 'We Bought A Zoo' is a great film for families and teens alike. There is sweet-as-corn comedy, heavy/believable drama, and a charm that pulls you in by the end of the first hour. Everything about this film makes you feel warm inside, yet also makes you teary eyed during some of the dramatic moments. This film is coming out around Christmas time, and has some pretty heavy competition from kids films like 'Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked' and 'The Adventures of Tintin.' Luckily it probably will gain some strong word of mouth from audiences who attended the special November 26 sneak preview screening which will help boost ticket sales. If your family can't find a single good movie out when Christmas arrives, then 'We Bought A Zoo' is the perfect ticket to spend money on.
Everyone in this movie is at their A-game here. Matt Damon plays the father figure of this film very well, knowing when to bring in harmless comedy and when to really be ticked off at his 14 year old son, played by the equally great young actor Colin Ford. The chemistry of the father and son stings of electric friction throughout the movie, but luckily brings it down to a mellow sunset towards the final 25 minutes. Scarlett Johansson I would say is the least intriguing of the all-star cast, but she is still a very good love interest to Damon. The best actors/actresses of the film all come from the surprisingly stellar supporting cast.
Thomas Haden Church is simply hilariously awesome as Damon's divorced brother. Church is the true comedic relief in this movie, with almost every single bit of dialogue shed by him resulted in my screening's audience bursting into laughter. A personal favorite character of the movie is Matt Damon's daughter, played by the sweet, charming, and hilarious newcomer Maggie Elizabeth Jones. She has some of the best lines in the entire flick, as well as the clichéd job of saying the film's title about two times. (Damon says it in the second to last scene) Elle Fanning is great as always playing Lily, the love interest of Colin Ford. While she isn't as tough as she was in 'Super 8,' Fanning brings a sweet girl-next-door type of character whose innocence really gives off a charm to the story. John Michael Higgins is a great and very funny villain as the snooty inspector that has no faith in the zoo at all. Everyone else in the film, while their parts are small, all add something special to this wonderful movie.
Cameron Crowe has made a very personal story with this film, despite the events in the movie actually based off of Benjamin Mee's real life purchase of the Dartmoor Zoological Park in South West England. Crowe actually co-wrote the script with ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna, so it’s actually proven right there that he really brought this story home. And why wouldn’t he? The cast all play their parts perfectly, with Damon and Church possibly being able to get Actor and Supporting Actor nominations if the Academy really looks at this film throughout the month of December. Those with heavy hearts may shed a few tears because of the fights Damon and Ford have with each other throughout the two hour running time. While this is being advertised as a family film, I would say leave the kids 6 and younger home mainly because of the intensity of some of the situations. (plus the fact that your kids would find out that the Easter Bunny doesn't exist.)
It's going to be very interesting in seeing how well this movie does during the Christmas season because of all of the competition coming out during that week. However since some of the holiday films have a large chance of disappointing audiences upon release, this may be the best film to check out. Sure it’s a mostly clichéd Hollywood story, plus they say the title of the film in the script three times, but this movie is solid entertainment. Overall, 'We Bought A Zoo' is a charming, funny, and seriously fantastic film that deserves at least some award consideration. Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to go give my dog a great big bear hug. Oh yes ladies and gentlemen, this IS one of those movies.
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