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And the 2011 most feel-good movie goes to WE BOUGHT A ZOO. It’s one of the most heartwarming, delightful, pleasant family films you’ll see this Holiday season. It’s also an excellent grief-themed movie. Great ensemble cast, across the board. This is much lighter than what we usually expect from Cameron Crowe who brought us Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, and Vanilla Sky, but after leaving us with the meditational Elizabethtown, which I didn’t enjoy very much, and then 6 years hiatus, WE BOUGHT A ZOO is a very sweet, very nice comeback, a breath of fresh air…
This holiday season, acclaimed filmmaker Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous) directs an amazing and true story about a single dad who decides his family needs a fresh start, so he and his two children move to the most unlikely of places: a zoo. With the help of an eclectic staff, and with many misadventures along the way, the family works to return the dilapidated zoo to its former wonder and glory.
What I enjoy about Crowe’s movies is that there’s always something personable about them, and it’s no different with WE BOUGHT A ZOO.
This film is not preachy, it doesn’t hit you like a ton of bricks, it doesn’t drag, it doesn’t get too sentimental either. It’s tender yet firm, a bit predictable yet entertaining.
It’s one of those movies that make anything seem possible, somewhat of an underdog story, the kind that’s generally liked, it’s a good way for Crowe to tell the world that he’s still in the game, without having to alienate his old fans, while embracing some new ones.
Be glad that this is not a talking animal movie. The animals in WE BOUGHT A ZOO serve as a way to challenge the humans on their road to healing and triumph.
Matt Damon is a fantastic actor because he can be action man in one movie and he can be your next door regular neighbor joe schmoe in another. As the single dad, Benjamin Mee, Damon channels a certain vulnerability that comes with fatherhood. And Damon shows the sorrow and exhaustion of a newly single parent.
I think it’s great to see Scarlett Johansson utilizing more than just her good looks. She shows some range that we remember from Lost In Translation, Girl With A Pearl Earring and The Horse Whisperer.
Johansson is not believable as a zookeeper, I mean, let’s face it,.. if you were to name someone who handles a zoo or cleans animal crap for a living, Johansson would probably the last person on your list, but she seems self-composed, which allows her character to be Mee’s listening ear.
Outstanding work by the teens in this film, Colin Ford who plays Mee’s angry son, Dylan and Elle Fanning who plays the socially awkward Elle Fanning. Their characters embody stereotypical teens and their usual problems with parents and also with peers their age. Ford and Fanning are actors who are going to rock Hollywood someday, you just wait and see.
Some things don’t work for me, although I admit Maggie Elizabeth Jones who plays the little daughter Rosie is absolutely adorable, I think the film plays out her cuteness way too often, way too much. And I think it’s sad that Patrick Fugit who was practically the star of Crowe’s 2000 Oscar worthy movie, Almost Famous, doesn’t get to have a substantial role in this film. All he mostly does is stand there in the background with a monkey on his back, how sad.
Aside from the zoo aspect, the story itself, in its core, is nothing unique but that doesn’t necessarily mean a bad thing. It’s about difficulties of moving on.
The loss of his wife, the mother of his children, leaves a mark that can’t easily be replaced by the appeal an unconventional new home.
But as the film suggests, sometimes plans change, and all of a sudden it’s not about you anymore.
And it’s not a Crowe movie without such memorable lines like ‘Show me the money’ and ‘you had me at hello’, WE BOUGHT A ZOO has a hopeful message of taking chances and gambling on life through 20 seconds of insane courage, loving people, and adventurous, unadulterated joy. And if you’re still asking why you should watch this movie, just say to yourself.. why not?!
GRADE: 4 out of 5
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