Age Rating (UK/US): PG
Over the weekend the movie We Bought A Zoo was showing on TV and though I had seen part of it before I decided to watch it all the way through.
The movie is based on a memoir written by Benjamin Mee of the same name which is about his experiences purchasing Dartmoor Wildlife Park in Devon in the UK in 2006, now known as Dartmoor Zoological Park. This movie adaptation moves the action to Southern California though Matt Damon’s character is called the same name.
His wife has recently died leaving him with a teenage son and young daughter. His son Dylan however is beginning to go off the rails and is expelled from school for stealing and also for drawing disturbing images of decapitated people. Desperate for a change, Benjamin looks to buy a new house. He browses several houses wiht his daughter Rosie before they stumbles on a large old house he decides to buy it. However the house comes with a big catch – it was a former zoo and the state want the owner to also buy the zoo.
Benjamin seeing how happy Rosie is decides to do this but so begins a race to get the zoo ready in time for it’s inspection by the USDA in order to open in time for the peak summer season.
Helping him along the way is a team of zoo staff led by zoo keeper Kelly Foster, played by Scarlett Johansson. Along the way Benjamin may also have to confront his relationship with his son and his own buried feelings for his wife so they can hopefully find a way forward.
I really enjoyed this movie and it is a great uplifting movie to watch. All of the actors play their roles really well and it is a lovely story of perseverance and working together as well as working through differences.
Matt Damon plays Benjamin really well and he is a character that you really root for and want to see do well after the tragedy that hits his family. I was very impressed with Thomas Haden Church’s performance as Dylan as it is his conflict with his father and them eventually growing and learning to move forward that is the real heart of the movie.
Scarlett Johansson is also brilliant as Kelly Foster and whilst she does play a love interest in the movie, it is handled very delicately and sensitively and seems like a natural progression of her and Benjamin’s friendship and a potential second chance at happiness for him.
Maggie Elizabeth Jones and Elle Fanning also do a great job in support, Maggie plays Benjamin’s younger daughter Rosie and although her role is the typical cute kid in these type of movies she is still great in the part. Elle Fanning meanwhile plays Kelly’s niece Lily and whilst she doesn’t have too much to do in the movie it does provide an interesting parallel between Benjamin and Dylan’s stories as both of them find happiness again.
I also cried at quite a few parts of the movie – the scene where Benjamin finally plucks up the courage to look at the photos of his wife on his computer, something which he hasn’t been able to do since she died, is powerful and beautifully shot to create a bittersweet moment in the movie. It is also my standout scene of the entire movie.
Also the scene with the USDA inspection where they pass and can open the zoo (which of course in this type of movie why wouldn’t this happen?) is very joyous.
I would say the opening half an hour is perhaps a little bit slow to get into but once you sit through this you will find it is a very lovely film to watch. I also discovered in writing this that it was based on a memoir which I have added to my to read list and hopefully will have a review for it soon.
Overall I would recommend this movie as one to watch as a family.