Animal Magnetism - A review of We Bought a Zoo

Scarlett Johansson and Matt Damon star in the family friendly drama "We Bought a Zoo".
Scarlett Johansson and Matt Damon star in the family friendly drama "We Bought a Zoo".

Matt Damon shines as a widower who buys a zoo with his two kids in an effort to heal after his wife passes away.

I originally saw and reviewed this movie on another website back when it came out last year, but I recently had the chance to see this on the big screen again and felt that my review definitely deserved an update.

It's actually rare for me to take the time to see repeat performances of the same movie unless something really stood out for me and deserved a second look. When I found out recently that I would have the opportunity to see this film again, I jumped at the chance. This movie was just that good.

Matt Damon stars as Benjamin Mee, a young widower who is trying to figure out how to heal his family. His daughter is taking the loss of her mother a lot better than her brother who seems to lash out at everything, including his father. This is when Mee decides to pack the whole family up and move into a house several miles removed from the urban core.

The fact that the property is a zoo is all the more appealing and the discovery process that he goes through in learning all that needs to be done to save the zoo is not only beautifully crafted but entertainingly told.

In his portrayal, Damon exudes the right amount of aplomb, coupled with the uncertainty that what he is doing is the correct move for all involved. As time progresses and the situation seems to overwhelm him, he never gives up on the dream, though.

As the head zoo keeper, Kelly, Scarlett Johansson embodies the strength and the belief that perhaps she may finally be able to believe in a potential owner, which is important in it's own right, given the disappointments she has experienced in the past.

The true scene stealer, here, though, is John Michael Higgins as the zoo regulator who is tasked with ensuring the zoo is up to spec prior to opening to the public. With his rather annoying auto-tape-measuring device, one almost wishes they could see the scene that obviously would ensue if one of the other zookeepers got their hands on it.

There is a romance here of sorts, but it isn't where one would expect. Instead of focusing on the obviously sexual chemistry between Damon and Johansson, the film gravitates the romantic overtones towards his son and Johansson's niece. The young romance juxtaposes nicely against the family friendly backdrop of this incredibly appealing film.

I had forgotten too that Cameron Crowe was this movie's director. Crowe is a master of telling a great story and not simply tugging but actually grabbing hold and yanking your heartstrings. He was the perfect helmsman for this tale. Crowe effectively balances the story of the park with the human element and the result is a masterpiece with just the right amount of sentimentality.

While based on a true story, the realities of the true-life portion of the tale were quite different and some elements may not have translated well to the screen, but this is one of those movies that shares the plight of the zoo extremely well, while drawing out emotions from even the most stoic of moviegoers. After all, who couldn't love a movie about a family in need of saving in turn reviving a venue that also needed attention?

I give "We Bought a Zoo" 4-1/2 out of 5 stars!

The Movie Poll

What's the best Cameron Crowe film

  • Say Anything
  • Jerry Maguire
  • Almost Famous
  • Vanilla Sky
  • We Bought a Zoo
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