We Bought a Zoo
By Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
Based on the
2007 book “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”, this new film starring Matt Damon as dad and
zoo-owner Benjamin Mee, is much more about family and healing from grief than
it is about animals.
“What do you
like more”, asks Lily (Elle Fanning) at the end, “people or animals?” Her aunt,
Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) doesn’t have to answer as she gazes at Ben (Matt
Damon). It’s people.
adventure writer, lost his wife Katherine (Stephanie Szostak) six months
before. He is raising 14-year old Dylan (Colin Ford) and 7-year old Rosie
(Maggie Elizabeth Jones) alone. But Dylan is acting out and gets expelled from
school and Rosie is old beyond her years, making their lunches but still
believing in the Easter bunny. So, Benjamin quits his job and looks for a new
home to start new. The realtor shows him a worn out farm house in the country
and Benjamin wants it. Even when he discovers that it comes with a zoo, or wild
life park, and a quirky animal-loving staff to go with it.
story took place in the south of England, but in the film it takes place in San
Diego County. The main plot points parallel those of the actual story, though
the developing romance between Benjamin and Kelly doesn’t seem to have extended
beyond the movie.
You might think
this is a film about animals, but it really is about people, death, dying,
grieving, and moving on. The old tiger Spar is the only one we get to know, and
throughout the film we follow the stages of healing from grief for Benjamin,
Dylan, and Rosie.
Rosie, that is,
Maggie Elizabeth Jones, plays her role to perfection. Matt Damon is very good
as the grieving father. I like Elle Fanning a lot as an actress, but it seems
like they added her in so that Dylan would have a love interest, someone to
pull him out of himself. When Dylan and his Dad have a show down, it is
spectacular, but real.
But there’s a
problem with this movie; I don’t think director Cameron Crowe ever figured out
how he wanted to tell this story to the audience. It’s billed as a comedy, but
it is more of a dramedy. It’s about a zoo, but more about the people who bought
it. The zoo is a backdrop for human interaction that is rather predictable.
Thomas Hayden Church as Duncan, Benjamin’s accountant brother, is pretty funny,
and there are some good moments, but there were too many big stars cast in
roles that didn’t quite develop enough to drive the story to come full circle.
It’s not easy to make a movie about grief, and grief is uncomfortable
yet it is part of all our lives. Not sure it’s the best choice for a Christmas
release, but I can see the film extending a healing touch to those who are
feeling loss. “We Bought a Zoo” offers audiences much to talk about if they can
make their way through the somewhat heavy pall of sorrow the sunlight in the
film never quite penetrates to reveal the hope that must be there.
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