We Bought A Zoo review [UK theatrical]
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
Matt Damon errs on the side of whimsy in Cameron Crowe's most recent outing...
When discussing the hazards of show business, comedian and actor W.C. Fields stated: “Never work with children or animals”. This now infamous quote was no doubt a reference to the unpredictable nature of both parties. However, We Bought a Zoo director Cameron Crowe seems to have ignored his advice.
Crowe’s latest effort stars Matt Damon as Benjamin Mee, a widower who is adjusting to life without his other half. While searching for a new home for him and his two children, Mee inexplicably decides to buy a run-down zoo. The film then follows the adventures of the Mee family as they renovate their new surroundings and, in the process, become increasingly attached to the staff and animals that populate its grounds.
We Bought a Zoo is based on true events, having been adapted from British journalist Benjamin Mee’s memoir of the same name. Crowe and his co-writer Aline Brosh McKenna have taken some liberties with the source material, first and foremost transplanting the action from Devon to California. It is easy to see why the director was drawn to the memoir in the first place as We Bought a Zoo contains many of the themes that were present in Crowe’s earlier work. These include the loss of a loved one, a fraught father-son relationship, and an impulsive male protagonist who makes a life-altering decision.
We Bought a Zoo is littered with instances of introspection that offer few solid resolutions. Character interactions often result in more questions being raised than answered. And it is all purveyed with a sense of innocence and childlike wonder. However, it is a credit to the director that these moments never seem fake or insincere. This, along with the interjected shots of the zoo’s beautiful animals, bestows the film with an inherent sweetness.
The film’s main problem lies in the fact that Crowe seems at a loss to explain his protagonist’s motives. Consequently, it seems as though Benjamin Mee is a character that the director himself does not fully understand. This is evidenced through the loose ends in the narrative, such as Mee’s decision to quit his job and the ongoing financial troubles of the zoo, which are either ignored or miraculously resolved. For example, when Mee is asked by Scarlett Johansson’s hard-working zookeeper why he bought the zoo he replies: “why not?”. Later in the film Mee offers the lightweight statement that his purchase of the property was in keeping with his sense of adventure.
Moreover, the film suffers from a dull and meandering second act. The focus on the Mee family struggling to adjust to their new life is long-winded. On the other hand, the burgeoning friendship between Benjamin Mee’s teenage son Dylan and a girl who works at the zoo - played by the talented young actress Elle Fanning - feels rushed.
However, We Bought a Zoo roars back into life during its third act. In particular the sub-plot concerning an ageing tiger that Mee can’t bring himself to put down is a pensive allegory to the protagonist’s experience with his wife. Additionally, the conflict and ultimate resolution between Dylan and his dad explored in the correlating scenes are the most powerful and touching moments in the film.
Another positive element is the film’s soundtrack. We Bought a Zoo is full of classic rock staples from the likes of Tom Petty, Neil Young and Pearl Jam. However, it is in the film’s composer Jónsi – lead singer of Icelandic experimentalists Sigur Rós– that Crowe has found the perfect partner. Jónsi’s childlike voice provides the ideal tone for the pastoral scenes concerning the animals. Meanwhile, his epic compositions haunt the more sombre scenes that revolve around Mee’s mourning of his late wife.
We Bought a Zoo is a film that wears its heart firmly on its sleeve. As he has done in the past, Crowe indulges his whims which makes for a slightly overlong film. But with the aid of some decent performances, from the humans and the animals alike, the end result is an uplifting and good-natured affair.
We Bought a Zoo is released in UK cinemas on the 16th of March 2012.
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE HELP SUPPORT OUR SITE, AT NO COST WITH ONE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK 'LIKE' BUTTON BELOW:
If you're interested in writing for Shadowlocked (disc and screening reviews, etc, or just getting some extra coverage for your extraordinary writing talent, get in touch with us.