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DVD Review: We Bought a Zoo

April 3, 2012

We Bought a Zoo – A 20th Century Fox Release

http://www.weboughtazoo.com/

DVD Release Date: April 3rd, 2012

Rated PG for mild language and some thematic elements

Running time: 124 minutes

Cameron Crowe (dir.)

Aline Brosh McKenna (screenplay)

Cameron Crowe (screenplay)

Based on the book by Benjamin Mee

Jónsi (music)

Matt Damon as Benjamin Mee

Scarlett Johansson as Kelly Foster

Colin Ford as Dylan Mee

Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Rosie Mee

Our reviews below:

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We Bought a Zoo DVD Review By John C.

*** (out of 4)

Based on true events and a book of the same name, We Bought a Zoo is the story of Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon).  After the death of his wife, he is struggling to take care of his young daughter, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and his emotionally fragile son, Dylan (Colin Ford) who keeps getting kicked out of school.  Looking for a fresh start, he buys an abandoned zoo made up of over 47 different species and a ragtag group of employees.  But the zoo is set to close if they don’t pass an inspection and pay off their debt.  The bonds they all form with the animals change them for the better, as Dylan befriends the teenaged helper Lily (Elle Fanning) and Benjamin finds himself falling into a burgeoning relationship with the beautiful zookeeper, Kelly (Scarlett Johansson).

I’ve always liked the films of Cameron Crowe, and with We Bought a Zoo the writer-director crafts a nicely written dramedy that affectively touches on issues of starting over and moving on.  Some have accused the film of being cloying and sappy, but I think it’s a lot better and more honest than that.  With strong performances, an excellent soundtrack that includes a beautiful score by Jónsi and a story that is as touching as it is sweet, We Bought a Zoo is a heartwarming film that can be enjoyed by older kids and adults.  I genuinely liked this one from beginning to end.

The Blu-ray includes audio commentary, deleted and extended scenes, three featurettes and a gag reel.

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We Bought a Zoo DVD Review By Erin V.  

*** (out of 4)

Based on the true story and book by Benjamin Mee, We Bought a Zoo has been adapted to screen as the story of father Benjamin (Matt Damon), who after his wife dies takes a risk and buys a rundown zoo, moving his two kids Dylan (Colin Ford) age 13, and Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) age 6, to the property to live.  The film works as a family (10+) film, but also as a sweet story of a family working together to make a hard thing work.

Of course, despite being based on a true story, the logistics of running a roadside zoo are not as easy as they may seem on screen – but nothing ever is.  After all, this is a movie.  But when watched as just that, the film is fine.  The acting is all good, and the script very well written.  The film also has a unique and fitting soundtrack by Icelandic artist Jónsi.

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We Bought a Zoo DVD Review By Nicole

*** (out of 4)

Based on Benjamin Mee’s memoir of the same name, We Bought a Zoo tells the story of one man who brings his family together by purchasing a roadside zoo.  After the death of his wife, journalist Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) decides to save money and start over by moving himself and his kids, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and Dylan (Colin Ford) to a home in the countryside.  The house they buy has an added bonus – a backyard zoo.  The zoo is falling apart and must be fixed up before the US Department of Agriculture inspector comes over.  The zoo has several animals who need special care, including an elderly tiger named Spar and a sad bruin.  The zoo makeover seems impossible, until zookeeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) and a small group of eccentric zooworkers help teach Benjamin how to run things.

We Bought a Zoo is a pleasant family movie.  Any sad moments are played in a family friendly way, never delving into the tearjerker territory of Marley and Me.  The acting is good, with the child performances being quite good.  Rosie is extremely cute and the animals are endearing as well.  The screenwriting is decent and the story will entertain kids old enough to follow the business aspect of things.

However, while nothing in the movie is overly upsetting to young animal lovers, I was disturbed by the underlying message of the film, which is that anyone can run a zoo.  Although based on the true story, the reality is that the animals depicted in the film require expert care as well as a lot of space, something an amateur run eighteen acre facility could never adequately accommodate.  The film which takes place in California (the real zoo is in England) depicts how it is unfortunately simple to buy endangered and dangerous animals, a task that is even easier in Ontario where anyone can own exotic animals without regulations, inspections or permits.  The American Humane Association approved the film.

However, for older kids and adults, We Bought a Zoo is a sweet and clean movie with a great family message about the healing power of animals.  Enjoy it as a movie, without taking it seriously.

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We Bought a Zoo DVD Review By Maureen

*** (out of 4)

For some kids, the idea of their parents buying a zoo would be a dream come true.  However for most people the idea just makes for an interesting movie premise.  We Bought a Zoo is loosely based on the 2008 memoirs of a British man, Benjamin Mee (played by Matt Damon) who buys a property that houses a collection of exotic animals.  In the movie version, Mee lives in California and buys a rundown house and roadside zoo as a fresh start for his kids Dylan (Colin Ford) and Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) who are grieving the loss of their mother.

We Bought a Zoo is a surprisingly sweet and sentimental comedy-drama.  Yes, the animals, lions, tigers, bears and more are fun to watch but it’s the family dynamics between the grieving father and the two kids, particularly troubled son Dylan that make the movie worth watching.  The process of the family moving through their grief with the help of the animals feels believable.  Credit has to go to Matt Damon’s strong performance.  Equally good are the young actors who play Dylan and Rosie.  The scenes between the father and son are rather intense at times.  The budding feelings between Benjamin and the pretty zookeeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) add a sweet dimension to the story, as does the friendship between Dylan and the young homeschooled zoohand, Lily (Elle Fanning).

Regardless of how you feel about roadside zoos in general, We Bought a Zoo is a pleasant family-centred movie that kids ten and up can enjoy on their own or with parents and grandparents.  Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson fans will also want to check it out, especially if they missed it in theatres.

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We Bought a Zoo DVD Review By Tony

*** (out of 4)

Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) was a feature writer attracted to the world’s danger spots until his wife’s recent death from cancer, leaving him with fourteen-year-old son Dylan (Colin Ford) and seven-year-old daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). Dylan is not coping well with grief, as his drawings become disturbingly dark and he is kicked out of school. Benjamin decides to make a clean start, ignoring the typically unhelpful advice of his brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church), and buys a country house that happens to include a derelict roadside zoo.

Closed to the public for two years with a skeleton caretaker staff, the zoo is threatened with liquidation if Mee can’t make it work. He decides to try to get it ready to open the following summer but it will first have to pass inspection by the officious Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins). The capable staff includes the charming but no-nonsense Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson), brilliant but eccentric Peter MacCready (Angus Macfadyen) and 13 year old helper Lily (Elle Fanning). Despite various setbacks, the outcome is somewhat predictable.

We Bought a Zoo is actually based on the true story of the British Mee family, whose zoo is a model of good management and animal care, unlike the majority of roadside zoos. Cameron Crowe has written and directed the film with all of his typical charm and sentimentality (in a good way), with a cast to match and an interesting background score from the Icelandic musician known as Jónsi. Though somewhat overlooked at its Christmas 2011 release, it is well worth seeing now on disk, but running at just over two hours, may be too much to take in for small kids.

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Consensus: With strong performances from a good cast led by Matt Damon as well as a sweet and touching story, Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo is a heartwarming film for older kids and adults.  *** (Out of 4)

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