Movie Review: We Bought A Zoo

By Stephen Rebello

Matt Damon stars in this easygoing, well-made, sometimes witty film: We Bought A Zoo

Director: Cameron Crowe Rating: PG Studio: Vinyl Films

Though it’s directed by former rock-and-roll-y humanist Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous; Jerry Maguire), We Bought A Zoo plays like a modern-day Ivan Tors movie. An easygoing, well-made, sometimes witty and genuinely affecting family entertainment, it’s the cinematic equivalent of a couple of hours of Easy Listening music. Good Easy Listening music, that is.

Aline Brosh McKenna and Crowe co-adapted Benjamin Mee’s memoir We Bought A Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Change Their Lives Forever and that title pretty much sums up what you’re in for.  There are many trips to hardware stores, misunderstandings with the zoo’s hippie-ish staff, animals escape, cause worry and act adorable and a family pulls together while Crowe and company pull expertly on the heartstrings.

Mee, played beautifully and simply by Matt Damon, a depressed widower with two kids (Maggie Elizabeth Jones and Colin Ford), who quits his L.A. Times gig and two hours of running time later, reclaims himself and his family by rehabilitating a rustic18-acre zoological park. A drabbed-down Scarlett Johansson does nicely, too, as Damon’s sort of romantic interest – a straight-talking, no nonsense zookeeper – as does the radiant Elle Fanning, playing a friend for Damon’s rebellious son.

The too long movie looks sunny, gorgeous and hopeful thanks not only to the cast but also to the gifted cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto.  Let’s hope that Crowe, who last stumbled with Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown, has regained his mojo and earned his Hollywood get-out-of-jail card. He’s much too smart, talented and unpredictable to not be working all the time.

About the Author

Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interviews and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2012. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.


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