Did We Bought a Zoo live up to its wild premise? By Laura Reynolds
With vague recollections of seeing the trailer to this film some months ago, I was expecting to enter the cinema, spend 90 odd minutes watching a slap stick comedy in the vein of Zookeeper (or perhaps that was just the titles confusing me…), and leave feeling little more than mildly entertained.
However, this film has more emotional investment – and therefore more sentiment – than expected. We watch the slow and painful recovery of a family torn apart by their mother’s death; although as tough as the subject matter is, it is lightened up with perfectly timed and appropriately portioned comedy intervals, making it an easy watch for the whole family.
The plot is based on a real-life British story, but has been given a subtle dose of the Hollywood treatment. It is also highly predictable, so not one to watch if you require mental stimulation. If, however, you are looking for a relaxing way to pass a couple of hours, you could do a lot worse.
Protagonist Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon – looking his best ever!), having lost his wife six months prior to the start of the film, senses his life and that of his children crumbling around him. So he uproots them to the countryside, to a house which comes complete with a zoo. Enter a stunning zookeeper (Scarlett Johansson), an impossible challenge of reviving the zoo in a short space of time, cashflow problems, sudden windfalls, and… You can pretty much guess what happens.
Damon and Johansson both do a great job in lead roles, but the show is entirely stolen by seven-year-old Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who plays Damon’s daughter Rosie. With her cutesy face, well-timed comments and wisdom beyond her years, she is the perfect antidote to sulking teenage brother Dylan (Colin Ford).
Throw in a strange babble of background characters, including Elle Fanning (younger sister of better known actress Dakota), playing a love interest for Dylan, and there you have it. Wishy washy and drawn out at times, entertaining and emotional at others, the most gripping part of the drama is Rosie’s relationship with her father; beyond that, the audience find little to engage with emotionally. The chemistry between on-screen match Damon and Johansson is severely lacking, through casting errors rather than any fault on the part of the cast, and the mirroring relationship between Ford and Fanning is not much better.
Aside from the obligatory lion and tigers and a garden full of snakes, there is a disappointing lack of animals considering the apparent location of the film. This is surprising given the possibilities available in Hollywood these days but a smart move on the part of director Cameron Crowe, ensuring that our attention remains focused on the humans (and avoiding straying into Zookeeper levels of ridiculousness).
Following a slightly ambling introduction, you’ll find yourself engrossed in a highly watchable, if somewhat unoriginal, heart-warming comedy.
We Bought a Zoo is in cinemas now.