Cool animals, great people, yams and monkey chow abound. We Bought a Zoo is now streaming at Amazon.com and available at Netflix.
Living your dream
Benjamin decides to buy the struggling Rosemoor Wildlife Park. Rosie is thrilled. Dylan is mortified.
Benjamin is inspired by the new adventure, a “good dream” where nights are filled with lemur laughter and revelry at The Jaguar pub. In real life, Mee manages the Dartmoor Zoo in England.
So many memorable actors
Casting by Gail Levin complements many great performances. Most memorable are Jones as cute, precocious Rosie; Thomas Haden Church as Benjamin’s neurotic brother Duncan, and Angus Macfadyen as visionary Peter MacCready, a builder of animal enclosures.
Everyone will have to work together for the zoo to pass inspection and re-open to the public.
Value of going within
Nine miles away from civilization, the zoo provides lots of quiet time. The characters stay true to themselves as they wrestle with inner demons. Dylan sketches dark scenes from the Underworld.
Benjamin is not ready to date again, despite Duncan’s pleas. “It’s great. I get it. This whole spiritual journey,” Duncan warns. “You’re insane.”
Talking to the animals
The animals are beautifully appreciated by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain; Biutiful). A sense of wonder is built with close-ups of lions, zebras, otters, camels, monkeys, peacocks, ostriches and parrots.
There’s a knack to talking to the animals. A petulant porcupine schools Benjamin. “You have to be real with ‘em,” he’s told.
Listening to people and animals
Benjamin coaxes Spar, the ancient Bengal tiger, to eat his food. Finally he realizes that Spar no longer wants to live. Animals will show you what they want to convey, Kelly tells him.
Father and daughter develop the gift of listening to and speaking with animals naturally. It’s a way to develop a rapport with the soul.
Father and son constantly fight. “Why don’t we just tell each other what we wish the other guy would say?” Benjamin suggests. “I’m sorry I brought you out to the sticks,” Dylan begins. “You’re a great dad,” Benjamin replies.
Odd beauty discovered
Benjamin struggles to heal his heart. Kelly frets that she’s pathetic, shoveling bear manure while her girlfriends party. Slowly, the two appreciate each others’ odd beauty.
Kelly and the staff haven’t been paid in months. They doubt whether Benjamin will be able to keep paying all the bills.
20 seconds of insane courage
A gifted humanist director, Crowe (Jerry Maguire; Say Anything . . .) has made a charming, intelligent film with a snappy pace.
Crowe and Aline Brosh McKenna adapted the beautiful screenplay from Mee’s book We Bought a Zoo. My favorite line is Benjamin’s advice to Dylan: “Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just, literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery.”
Walking with lions
Buster, a 650 pound North American grizzly, escapes one day. This endangers the zoo’s reputation. A record storm the week before the scheduled opening tests everyone’s faith.
The plot is predictable, and some moments are overly sweet. Still We Bought a Zoo finds greatness in the human condition. As MacCready reminds us, “We walk with lions.”
We Bought a Zoo 2011 / PG / 2 hours, 4 min
Cast Overview: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Patrick Fugit, Colin Ford, Elle Fanning, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, John Michael Higgins, Angus Macfadyen, Peter Riegert, Stephanie Szostak, J. B. Smoove
Director: Cameron Crowe
Genre: Dramedy, Family