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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

We Bought a Zoo

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.

Benjamin, an 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.
The original 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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Conrad of Parzham: Conrad spent most of his life as porter in Altoetting, Bavaria, letting people into the friary and indirectly encouraging them to let God into their lives. 
<p>His parents, Bartholomew and Gertrude Birndorfer, lived near Parzham, Bavaria. In those days this region was recovering from the Napoleonic wars. A lover of solitary prayer and a peacemaker as a young man, Conrad joined the Capuchins as a brother. He made his profession in 1852 and was assigned to the friary in Altoetting. That city’s shrine to Mary was very popular; at the nearby Capuchin friary there was a lot of work for the porter, a job Conrad held for 41 years. </p><p>At first some of the other friars were jealous that such a young friar held this important job. Conrad’s patience and holy life overcame their doubts. As porter he dealt with many people, obtaining many of the friary supplies and generously providing for the poor who came to the door. He treated them all with the courtesy Francis expected of his followers. </p><p>Conrad’s helpfulness was sometimes unnerving. Once Father Vincent, seeking quiet to prepare a sermon, went up the belltower of the church. Conrad tracked him down when someone wanting to go to confession specifically requested Father Vincent. </p><p>Conrad also developed a special rapport with the children of the area. He enthusiastically promoted the Seraphic Work of Charity, which aided neglected children. </p><p>Conrad spent hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. He regularly asked the Blessed Mother to intercede for him and for the many people he included in his prayers. The ever-patient Conrad was canonized in 1934.</p> American Catholic Blog The Resurrection is neither optimism nor idealism; it is truth. Atheism proclaims the tomb is full; Christians know it is empty.

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