By Kyra Smith-Cullen in Arts & Entertainment
April 19, 2012
We Bought a Zoo is a warm family movie about a man who, in an effort to make his children happy after the loss of their mother, buys a depilated old wildlife park.
It sounds simple, right? Nothing complicated about that. But the complexity of the characters alone makes up for any assumptions you might make.
The main character is Benjamin Mee, a former reporter and recent widower, who is struggling to keep his family together after his wife dies of some unmentioned disease. In hopes of escaping the memories of his wife, Benjamin wants a new start. And nothing screams new beginnings like buying a house and zoo after watching his seven year old daughter fall in love with a massive lion and some peacocks. There are some major challenges that need to be overcome, both financially and personally, in order for them to succeed.
Since the movie is two hours, I was a little worried that I would get bored — especially after last week’s incident with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. But this wasn’t the case. The story line and timing of the film kept me hooked through the entire thing, and when it was over, I couldn’t believe that so much time had passed.
The film, which is based off of the true story of Dartmouth Zoological Park, was tremendously skilled at making me not only see the emotions of the characters, but feel them as well. Whether it’s the anger that the 14 year old Dylan Mee directs at his father, or Benjamin’s desire to make the zoo succeed, I wanted the character to resolve their problems. Largely, this is due to the talent of the actors. Matt Damon was incredible, but as much credit should go to Colin Ford, who played Dylan, and Maggie Jones, the girl who played Mee’s innocent 7 year old daughter.
Humor is sprinkled all through the movie’s two hour run time, ranging from suggestive humor involving a tape measure to the Mee’s reactions as the zookeeper, played by Scarlett Johanson, gives facts about the animals.
Visually, the director made some terrific choices. But what stunned me most was the way he chose to portray the flashbacks. It’s not just a date stamped across the bottom, or a foggy screen. Instead, the director decided to have the characters interact with the memories. There’s this one scene where Mee is looking at photos of his deceased wife, and the photographs simply come to life. It’s an amazing technique that really amplified the experience.
There’s this one scene where somebody asks Benjamin Mee why he bought a zoo, and all he says is ‘Why not’. So all I can ask is why wouldn’t you watch this film – it’s an emotionally charged, warm family movie that will leave you feeling satisfied.