Published December 23, 2011
Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, cute kids and a whole lot of exotic animals. It’s an odd project for these two A-listers -- and an even stranger project for director Cameron Crowe -- but in "We Bought a Zoo," the actors pump life into an otherwise predictable story.
Based on a true story, Damon plays bereft Benjamin Mee ,who buys a zoo to help his children cope with the loss of their mother. Completely out of his element and against his brother’s (Thomas Haden Church) pleas, Mee takes control of the zoo staff and rebuilds the park. Striking up a relationship with a pretty zookeeper (Johansson), Benjamin tries to mend his life.
“We Bought A Zoo” is decent family entertainment. Crowe touches on grief and rebirth, forgiveness and starting anew. Damon’s grieving and attempts to reconnect with his children provides adequate drama to sustain the two hour movie, but the wishy-washy, sunshiny-feel throughout never gives an impression there’s ever any substantial problems for these characters.
Crowe is famous for his use of music in films. Sometimes it feels as if he only makes a film to create a soundtrack. Here he uses to music of Icelandic vocalist Jónsi to create an ethereal, National Geographic-like sound, which would feel right at home on one of those “Pure Moods” compilations.
Crowe tries to strike gold twice with the uber-intelligent, pseudo-adult six year old. Jonathan Lipnicki was a smash hit in Crowe's “Jerry Maguire” as the encyclopedic child. Here young Maggie Elizabeth Jones plays Damon’s young daughter who acts like a verbal self-help book. Sometimes it’s adorable, other times it’s irritating.
There’s plenty for all in “We Bought A Zoo.” Adults will connect with Damon’s inspiration to beat the odds. Kids will love the animals, the antics and the prospects of living in a zoo.