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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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Andrew: Andrew was St. Peter’s brother, and was called with him. "As [Jesus] was walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is now called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him" (Matthew 4:18-20). 
<p>John the Evangelist presents Andrew as a disciple of John the Baptist. When Jesus walked by one day, John said, "Behold, the Lamb of God." Andrew and another disciple followed Jesus. "Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come, and you will see.’ So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day" (John 1:38-39a). </p><p>Little else is said about Andrew in the Gospels. Before the multiplication of the loaves, it was Andrew who spoke up about the boy who had the barley loaves and fishes (see John 6:8-9). When the Gentiles went to see Jesus, they came to Philip, but Philip then had recourse to Andrew (see John 12:20-22). </p><p>Legend has it that Andrew preached the Good News in what is now modern Greece and Turkey and was crucified at Patras.</p> American Catholic Blog We look ahead to the coming of the Son of Man, standing erect and with heads held high. We live in hope, not in fear. Our experience of God is no longer limited by human weakness or even human sinfulness. God has always been one step ahead of us, with a plan that exceeds our greatest desires.

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