Published Thursday, 15 March 2012
Yes, I expected lots of fluffy and cuddly exotic animals with precocious kids but what I did not expect was a menagerie of emotions, as a likeable young family cope with the sudden aftermath of grief.
The evergreen Matt Damon plays Benjamin Mee, a recently widowed young father of two, who, on the spur of the moment, quits his job and decides to buy a rundown wildlife park in Southern California. Benjamin's older brother Duncan (the sardonic Thomas Haden Church) tells him to "travel the stages of grief but stop before you get to the zebras!".
Mee goes far beyond zebras, he also has lions, tigers and bears to contend with. But proving much more difficult for him to tame are his two children, seven year old daughter Rosie, the savvy and cute Maggie Elizabeth Jones and troubled teenager Dylan, the sullen and sulky Colin Ford.
Benjamin Mee is still in mourning for his wife and the children are still grieving for their mum. But will the seemingly absurd act of buying a zoo bring this fractured family back together again?
Also joining the mishmash of fierce creatures in the zoo is an odd collection of zookeepers led by the intrepid Kelly Foster played by Scarlett Johansson. Okay, it's obvious that Damon and Johansson will end up together, but hey, that's what happens in Hollywood movies.
But We Bought A Zoo is not a work of fiction but based on the memoirs of the real Benjamin Mee, a English journalist and young widowed father, who did indeed buy a zoo, Dartmoor Zoo in Devon.
The book was published in over twenty countries, became a television series and is now a Hollywood movie.
I always look forward to watching director Cameron Crowe's films (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous) or should I say listen to his superior soundtracks. For this former Rolling Stone rock journalist, music and movies were simply born to run.
We Bought A Zoo is no exception, with a great set of new songs from Jonsi, former front man of Sigur Ros and a perfect playlist of classic songs featuring amongst others, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Echo & the Bunnymen and Cat Stevens. It is a terrific treat to sit in the audio luxury of a surround sound cinema and listen to such sweet music.
Matt Damon excels once again, bringing not only great charm to the central role but also the angst of a parent forced to start again. In one memorable scene with tormented teen Dylan, he roars at his son to listen, only to discover that he is the one who has not been listening.
We Bought A Zoo is a feel good then feel bad but ultimately a feel good movie again. A family adventure set to stir wilder hearts and animal passions. I've been to the zoo. I think you should go too.
We Bought A Zoo (Cert PG) is on general release from Friday 16th March.