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We Bought a Zoo

John P. McCarthy
Source: Catholic News Service

Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson star in a scene from the movie "We Bought a Zoo."
Of the various endangered species populating "We Bought a Zoo" (Fox), a man hoping for sufficient time to grieve his wife's death is arguably the most threatened.

Based on the real-life experiences of British writer Benjamin Mee, this amiable and ambling holiday feature puts a Capraesque twist on the notion of caretaking in the wake of loss, and has some star wattage to boost its commercial prospects. If only it didn't endorse society's expectation that "getting over" the death of a loved one must happen within a prescribed time period.

Matt Damon stars as Mee, a Los Angeles newspaper columnist struggling with his parental responsibilities six months after his wife's passing. Harried and dissatisfied with his job writing about other people's adventures, he misses his wife terribly, and finds rote expressions of sympathy unhelpful.

His precocious 7-year-old, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), and 14-year-old son, Dylan (Colin Ford), aren't faring too well either. Rosie has trouble picturing her mother's face, and Dylan gets expelled from school, mostly for creating morbid art that expresses his anger and deep sadness.

Benjamin's brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church) urges more human interaction, i.e., dating, but Benjamin takes a different tack. He quits his job after deciding a change of scene—and the opportunity to live their own adventure—is what the family needs. They move from the city to an 18-acre rural property that contains a ramshackle zoo. Can they fix it up, pass inspection and open for business in time for the peak season?

Trying to resuscitate Rosemoor Animal Park may well bring financial ruin and further alienate father and son. Fortunately, however, along with exotic animals the zoo comes with a staff of five humans, two of whom are potential love interests for the Mee males—head keeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) and vivacious teen Lily (Elle Fanning).

As is only to be expected from former music journalist-turned-helmer Cameron Crowe ("Almost Famous" and "Jerry Maguire"), the soundtrack utilizes plenty of rock- 'n'-roll ballads. Crowe's direction is easygoing, and the script he co-wrote with Aline Brosh McKenna doesn't belabor the peril or the romantic possibilities. Attempts at zany humor never really hit their mark, though Haden Church gives it his best. Not overly glossy by Hollywood standards, it's a tame picture with minimal conflict. There's little doubt all will turn out well.

Potentially chafing to Catholic viewers is a parallel storyline about a Bengal tiger. Benjamin's instinct is to nurse the regal animal, which is dying of natural causes. But the argument is vehemently made that the humane and moral course of action is to end the creature's suffering by hastening its death. This unquestioned assumption, and the way it mirrors the widower's coming to grips with his primary loss, reminds us we're part of a culture whose prevailing attitudes toward life and death must be carefully parsed.

These three points notwithstanding, "We Bought a Zoo" is commendable entertainment—not least because it emphasizes the importance of hard work in achieving anything of value, whether therapeutic or zoological.

The film contains at least one instance of profanity, several uses of crude and crass language, some lightly suggestive banter and a few morbid images. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Marie-Rose Durocher: Canada was one diocese from coast to coast during the first eight years of Marie-Rose Durocher’s life. Its half-million Catholics had received civil and religious liberty from the English only 44 years before. When Marie-Rose was 29, Bishop Ignace Bourget became bishop of Montreal. He would be a decisive influence in her life. 
<p>He faced a shortage of priests and sisters and a rural population that had been largely deprived of education. Like his counterparts in the United States, he scoured Europe for help and himself founded four communities, one of which was the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Its first sister and reluctant co-foundress was Marie-Rose. </p><p>She was born in a little village near Montreal in 1811, the 10th of 11 children. She had a good education, was something of a tomboy, rode a horse named Caesar and could have married well. At 16, she felt the desire to become a religious but was forced to abandon the idea because of her weak constitution. At 18, when her mother died, her priest brother invited her and her father to come to his parish in Beloeil, not far from Montreal. For 13 years she served as housekeeper, hostess and parish worker. She became well known for her graciousness, courtesy, leadership and tact; she was, in fact, called “the saint of Beloeil.” Perhaps she was too tactful during two years when her brother treated her coldly. </p><p>As a young woman she had hoped there would someday be a community of teaching sisters in every parish, never thinking she would found one. But her spiritual director, Father Pierre Telmon, O.M.I., after thoroughly (and severely) leading her in the spiritual life, urged her to found a community herself. Bishop Bourget concurred, but Marie-Rose shrank from the prospect. She was in poor health and her father and her brother needed her. </p><p>She finally agreed and, with two friends, Melodie Dufresne and Henriette Cere, entered a little home in Longueuil, across the Saint Lawrence River from Montreal. With them were 13 young girls already assembled for boarding school. Longueuil became successively her Bethlehem, Nazareth and Gethsemani. She was 32 and would live only six more years—years filled with poverty, trials, sickness and slander. The qualities she had nurtured in her “hidden” life came forward—a strong will, intelligence and common sense, great inner courage and yet a great deference to directors. Thus was born an international congregation of women religious dedicated to education in the faith. </p><p>She was severe with herself and by today’s standards quite strict with her sisters. Beneath it all, of course, was an unshakable love of her crucified Savior. </p><p>On her deathbed the prayers most frequently on her lips were “Jesus, Mary, Joseph! Sweet Jesus, I love you. Jesus, be to me Jesus!” Before she died, she smiled and said to the sister with her, “Your prayers are keeping me here—let me go.” </p><p>She was beatified in 1982.</p> American Catholic Blog It is in them [the saints] that Christian love becomes credible; they are the poor sinners’ guiding stars. But every one of them wishes to point completely away from himself and toward love…. The genuine saints desired nothing but the greater glory of God’s love… <br />—Hans Urs von Balthasar

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