WE BOUGHT A ZOO. Starring Matt Damon, Scarlet Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Colin Ford, Elle Fanning. Directed by Cameron Crowe. 124 minutes.
We bought a zoo. As one does!
Well, not exactly. However, Benjamin Mee, an adventurer-writer, recently widowed and with two children, finds that his son is doing badly at school, draws nightmarish pictures and is to be expelled. Benjamin decides to move and finds an old house that he thinks is just right. (His son does not, but his rather precocious little daughter does.) Then the estate agent remarks that the house belongs to a zoo. And that they will own the zoo. Benjamin says yes.
The zoo is run down and closed for business. There is a motley group as staff, devoted and with particular expertise for caring for the animals. They are led by Kelly who has worked there for thirteen years. As we guess, staff and family will do their utmost to have everything ready for inspection and then a summer opening. But...
First of all the son is self-pitying, sits and draws and clashes with this father - though he allows himself to be distracted by Kelly’s niece, Lily. They are pre-teens so romance is of the shy, awkward, budding type.
Then there are the adventures with the animals (more and more of whom appear at various moments throughout the film). The tiger is old and some think he should be put down. A crater full of snakes is accidentally opened. The grizzly bear wanders into the town. There is always something. But, what is lacking is money – fortunately, Ben’s deceased wife had foreseen situations like this and had made provision. The money is managed by Ben’s sardonic banker brother, Duncan. They have a temporary inspection by a prissy official and then work harder for his final approval. There is a nice anti-climax on opening day. The weather had been terrible. Then it looks as if no one is coming, until... Well, that’s to find out when you see it.
Obviously a family friendly film about family, grief, clashes, energy and enterprise. And this is all enhanced by a sound cast. The ever genial and reliable Matt Damon is Benjamin. Scarlet Johansson has a better role than she has had recently as Kelly. Colin Ford makes a credible self-pitying son. Elle Fanning is Lily and Thomas Haden Church is Duncan. The film has been directed by former music journalist, Cameron Crowe, who had success with Almost Famous and did not have success with Elizabethtown. Here he is on safer ground.
The credits tell us that the zoo is functioning well and serves as a model in treatment of animals for other zoos.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
20th Century Fox.
Out December 26, 2011