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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

We Bought a Zoo

By
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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Augustine of Hippo: A Christian at 33, a priest at 36, a bishop at 41: Many people are familiar with the biographical sketch of Augustine of Hippo, sinner turned saint. But really to get to know the man is a rewarding experience. 
<p>There quickly surfaces the intensity with which he lived his life, whether his path led away from or toward God. The tears of his mother (August 27), the instructions of Ambrose (December 7) and, most of all, God himself speaking to him in the Scriptures redirected Augustine’s love of life to a life of love. </p><p>Having been so deeply immersed in creature-pride of life in his early days and having drunk deeply of its bitter dregs, it is not surprising that Augustine should have turned, with a holy fierceness, against the many demon-thrusts rampant in his day. His times were truly decadent—politically, socially, morally. He was both feared and loved, like the Master. The perennial criticism leveled against him: a fundamental rigorism. </p><p>In his day, he providentially fulfilled the office of prophet. Like Jeremiah and other greats, he was hard-pressed but could not keep quiet. “I say to myself, I will not mention him,/I will speak in his name no more./But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,/imprisoned in my bones;/I grow weary holding it in,/I cannot endure it” (Jeremiah 20:9).</p> American Catholic Blog Silence is the ability to trust that God is acting, teaching, and using me—even before I perform or after my seeming failures. Silence is the necessary space around things that allows them to develop and flourish without my pushing. God takes it from there.

 
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