We Bought a Zoo (2011) Poster

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Beautiful & Touching, Crowe does it again.
wbhendrix-127 November 2011
Cameron Crowe never fails to deliver hart warming drama-comedies that make you laugh, cry and keep you on the edge of your seat for duration of his films. For me personally, I never seem to agree with Crowe's casting taste (Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson never do much for me) but Cameron has a way with actors and a true vision for his story. He always seems to know exactly who can capture his characters and ultimately draw out your emotions that he's tugging at.

In We Bought a Zoo, there is a bit of a slow start and at one point I was worried Cameron had lowered his voice to appeal to a larger audience to please producers and critics alike (after his Critically-bombed but personal all time fav, Elizabethtown).

But let me tell you, pay your dues with the first half of this film because the second half will take you on a mesmerizing cinematic adventure you'll be heartbroken for more. Cameron ventures into a new family drama without compromising his voice, music taste or quality film making. And if you are still not a huge CC fan, the animals are sure to win you over. Their beautiful and natural moments on screen are as breath taking as they are tear-jerking.

Spend an amazing two hours with this film and there won't be a person in your household that won't agree that this film is one to remember. From a fan and living-room-critic, I give it two thumbs up :)
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A wonderful family movie that is full of heart and appeals to all ages. A must see family movie. I easily say its an A.
cosmo_tiger31 March 2012
"You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it." Benjamin Mee's (Damon) life is starting to crumble. His wife has died, his son is expelled from school and he quit his job. In hopes to start a new life they decide to move and find the perfect house. Then they realize that it's a zoo. I have to admit that I was a little skeptical going in because I thought that it would be a good movie but really cheesy. I really like Cameron Crowe though so I expected it to be good from that. I have to admit that this was one of the best family movies that I have seen in a long time. The movie had enormous heart, depth and tackled real world issues while still appealing to all ages. The writing and the acting were great and the movie absolutely won me over a half hour in. I highly recommend this one. Overall, this is a must see for families and is one to buy so you can watch over and over. I give it an A.
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In praise of earnestness
holdenkara26 December 2011
I am grateful that in this cynical world, there are still artists who are courageous enough not to run from earnestness, but to embrace it. Cameron Crowe has done just that with WE BOUGHT A ZOO. This is a beautiful movie, full of life - truthfully acted, beautifully shot and lovingly directed. I expected to cry (which I did, many times) but I didn't know that it would also be so funny with levity coming just when you need it. Matt Damon was brilliant as the heartbroken but hopeful father. And my only gripe about Thomas Haden Church is that there wasn't more of him! The kids were all brilliant -- not an ounce of self-consciousness to their acting, which is rare when it comes to child actors. And the final scene alone is worth the price of admission. Anyone willing to open his or her heart will fall in love with this movie like I did. Kudos to all involved.
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Simple and Hopeful.
jmeshearer23 December 2011
This film, starring Matt Damon, was unequivocally everything I had hoped it would be. Upon viewing the trailer while waiting to watch The Muppets, there were tears in my eyes and my heart skipped a beat as I remembered I wasn't watching the film itself, just the preview.

The film came out yesterday and to my luck, my mother invited me to go and see it with her this evening. I was thrilled to see that the music throughout the film was performed by a favorite Icelandic musician, Jónsi, with a perfect selection of "Holocene" from Bon Iver's new album. It was little details such as these that kept me appreciating the film from start to finish.

The plot may have been at times predictable but they were predictions you wanted to happen; conflict you wanted to be resolved and rain you wish would stop. Coming into the theater already a Matt Damon fan I was interested to see how he was going to fill the widowed father role. A few things a noticed; Matt does look older, he is still as handsome as ever, and he should stick with a shorter haircut. Aside from my personal opinion, I think anyone leaving the theater could agree he played the roll wonderfully.

The warmhearted character of adorable Maggie Elizabeth Jones, melted my heart every time she was on the screen. Her character, "Rosie" was the seven year old whose dreams came true; her Dad moved them to a zoo. My favorite scene is when the Realtor tells Matt Damon's character, "Benjamin" that the house they wanted to buy was also a zoo. As Benjamin stood there dumbfounded, Rosie Jumped up and down as any seven year old would shouting "Yay!". Seriously, the cutest thing ever.

If the cast didn't win you over the animals did. Tigers, lions, bears, snakes, monkeys, owls, otters, peacocks, etc. The list goes on and on. Each personality portrayed in a relatable way as if you were on the team helping run the zoo itself.

If you and your family are wanting to go see a movie this holiday season, go and see We Bought A Zoo. It is the perfect film to tug at your heart strings, leave you with tears in your eyes, and hope in your heart.
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Film Clips Don't Do This Movie Justice
patsworld5 January 2012
We Bought A Zoo is a heart-warming, fun movie. The casting is a good as you could wish for and if I had to choose, I'd pick this as my favorite Matt Damon film. For anyone who loves animals, and I have to confess I'm about head of the line as one of them, this is a marvelous picture with not only the people personalities shining forth, but so too the animals. In most cases, we all know that the brief film clips shown prior to the movie are supposed to be showing the best of the picture. In this case, that is far from the truth. I almost passed this delightful movie up because all I could think of was, if this is the best there is...I don't think so. I'm so glad I opted to see it in spite of my reservations. Who ever picked the preview clips should be fired...or retrained, perhaps, because what they went with most certainly didn't do this movie justice. Not even close. It's a really enjoyable movie and I'd recommend it to everyone.
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Like the Animals, Love the People
ferguson-611 December 2011
Greetings again from the darkness. Director Cameron Crowe has finally emerged from his cocoon - 7 years after the abysmal Elizabethtown. Yes, he has had a couple of projects in that time, notably the Pearl Jam documentary, but he has avoided anything related to his dramatic film roots of which produced "Say Anything", "Jerry Maguire" and "Almost Famous". This time he delivers a feel good, family appropriate, sentimental crowd-pleaser that should play very well to the holiday crowd.

Please know I do not use "sentimental" as a derogatory term. Sure there are moments where the actions and dialogue seem contrived and manipulative, but some of the best crowd-pleasers throughout Hollywood history have these same traits. This film is based on a true story and uses Benjamin Mee's autobiographical book as the basic source material. The real Mee family and their zoo, are stationed in England, not southern California as Crowe presents them. What I can tell you is that this version of the Mee family and the zoo staff is interesting and entertaining, even if you just have to let go and allow yourself to be guided through.

Matt Damon plays Benjamin Mee and the story picks up after his wife dies. He soon quits his job and moves his two kids to the country so they can work through their grief and start fresh. His teenage son Dylan is played with blazing anger by the talented Colin Ford. The precocious 7 year old daughter is played by scene-stealer Maggie Elizabeth Jones. This family experiences the realities of struggling with their pain and difficulties in communicating.

As for the zoo, it is in major disrepair and in danger of closing if it doesn't pass its pending inspection. Benjamin works with the rag-tag staff, including head zookeeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), to bring the facility up to code and nurse the sick animals back to health. As the zoo is rehabbed, so are the individuals. No surprise there.

The main conflict in the story comes from the hard-headedness of Benjamin and Dylan, as they ignore their inability to communicate and connect as father and son. A couple of their scenes together are the best in the film for acting and realistic dialogue. At the same time, Kelly acts as a quasi-love interest for Benjamin, while Lily (Elle Fanning) uses puppy love to help Dylan through his misery. That sub-plot is where Crowe missed a real chance. Ms. Fanning is one of the top young actresses working today and her contributions here are limited to that luminescent smile.

The wild cast of supporting actors includes wise-cracking Thomas Haden Church as Benjamin's brother, JB Smoove as the Realtor, Peter Riegert as Mee's editor, Patrick Fugit (from Almost Famous) as the guy with a monkey on his shoulder, Angus Macfadyen as the colorful zoo maintenance man, and John Michael Higgins as the snooty zoo inspector who knowingly holds their future in his smarmy hand.

As always, Crowe uses music better than most any other director. This includes his use of score and soundtrack to compliment a scene or drive the setting and mood. What really makes this film work is Matt Damon. His character is the heart of the film and the soul of the family. His performance is strong enough to prevent the film from lapsing into pure sap and makes us care for him, his family and this zoo. Don't expect some cutting edge, independent sulk fest. Just accept the movie for what it is ... a feel good story delivered for the holidays.
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A lot of heart and humanity makes this a delightful, inspiring and poignant autobiographical tale notable too for a peerless lead act by Matt Damon
moviexclusive20 December 2011
You can't get more obvious what your film is about with a title like 'We Bought a Zoo', but fortunately director Cameron Crowe's adaptation of British journalist Benjamin Mee's autobiography possesses much more subtlety and nuance than what its title would suggest. The story of a grieving widower who makes the unusual decision to buy a rural property whose 18 acres includes the Rosemoor Animal Park, it is also Crowe's first feature since his 2005 flop 'Elizabethtown' and the feel-good family movie represents a welcome return to form for the talented filmmaker behind such classics like 'Say Anything' and 'Jerry Maguire'.

Working off a script by 'The Devil Wears Prada' and 'Morning Glory's' Aline Brosh McKenna, Crowe grounds the high-concept tale in a heart- warming story about a lonely widower trying to overcome his grief for his bereaved wife while attempting to reconnect with his teenage son Dylan (Colin Ford) and young daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). Crowe is better than to take the easy route of mawkish sentimentality; instead, there is genuine humanity and optimism in his storytelling, complemented by some outstanding performances that he coaxes from an ensemble cast- in particular his lead actor Matt Damon.

Though the 'Bourne' trilogy has cemented his reputation as a thinking man's action star, Damon has been and still is a strong dramatic actor. The astute actor confidently matches the emotional beats that Crowe chooses for his character every step of the way, from sanguineness at a change of scenery early on to dismay later on when one thing after another goes awry. His is a heartfelt performance that packs a powerful emotional wallop in his understated delivery of a father struggling to do it right by his children- and nowhere is this more evident than in a powerful scene where Benjamin and Dylan address their fractured relationship head-on which is guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes.

The conviction that Damon brings to his role is a huge reason why the film achieves its intended poignancy. A scene where his character finally overcomes his fear of looking at past photographs of his wife and their happy days together as a family is simple yet moving- and appropriately filmed in close-ups; while the film's last scene where he reminisces his first encounter with his deceased wife to his children also works brilliantly thanks to Damon at his earnest best. He also shares great chemistry with each of his co-stars- whether Scarlett Johannson's perceptive zookeeper Kelly, or Thomas Haden Church's wry older brother Duncan.

Both Johannson and Church are also individually outstanding in their supporting roles, alongside other equally incomparable veterans like Angus MacFadyen as the groundskeeper with a longstanding grudge for park inspector Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins) and Patrick Fugit (who played Crowe's alter ego in 'Almost Famous') as one of the zoo staffers with a capuchin monkey perpetually perched on his shoulders. Crowe has also assembled an impressive teenage cast- Ford brings a raw edge to his character's anger, counterbalanced perfectly by the ebullient Elle Fanning as Kelly's cousin- as well as an impossibly adorable Maggie Elizabeth Jones sure to melt your heart.

Aided by an outstanding cast, Crowe drives the narrative along with a sure confident hand. Alongside the running themes of grief and parenthood are well-inserted vignettes of Benjamin and his crew's obstacles at getting the zoo up to inspection standards in time for a grand reopening on the seventh seventh (or the seventh of July)- among them the escape of the zoo's 650-pound grizzly bear Buster, the fate of the zoo's 17-year-old ailing tiger Spar and of course Benjamin's impending bankruptcy (that we admit is over all too soon by a dues ex machina). Still, there is genuine feeling in every scene, and Crowe's choice of music (a mix of oldies with more contemporary tunes) as well as Jónsi's (of Icelandic cult band Sigur Rós) eclectic score works perfectly in complementing the mood of the film.

And even though it's tinged with sadness, the tone of the film is never depressing- Crowe making it sure that the film steers clear of both over-dramatic as well as melodramatic moments. There's hope and affirmation abound in this inspirational tale, and just because its message of acceptance and reconciliation may sound familiar doesn't mean it is less authentic or touching for that matter. It wears its heart on its sleeve, but thanks to Crowe's deft hand as well as Damon's heartfelt performance, even the cynical will find themselves moved.

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Why Not?!
Ramascreen24 December 2011
-- www.Ramascreen.com --

And the 2011 most feel-good movie goes to WE BOUGHT A ZOO. It's one of the most heartwarming, delightful, pleasant family films you'll see this Holiday season. It's also an excellent grief-themed movie. Great ensemble cast, across the board. This is much lighter than what we usually expect from Cameron Crowe who brought us Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, and Vanilla Sky, but after leaving us with the meditational Elizabethtown, which I didn't enjoy very much, and then 6 years hiatus, WE BOUGHT A ZOO is a very sweet, very nice comeback, a breath of fresh air…

What I enjoy about Crowe's movies is that there's always something personable about them, and it's no different with WE BOUGHT A ZOO. This film is not preachy, it doesn't hit you like a ton of bricks, it doesn't drag, it doesn't get too sentimental either. It's tender yet firm, a bit predictable yet entertaining. It's one of those movies that make anything seem possible, somewhat of an underdog story, the kind that's generally liked, it's a good way for Crowe to tell the world that he's still in the game, without having to alienate his old fans, while embracing some new ones. Be glad that this is not a talking animal movie. The animals in WE BOUGHT A ZOO serve as a way to challenge the humans on their road to healing and triumph.

Matt Damon is a fantastic actor because he can be action man in one movie and he can be your next door regular neighbor joe schmoe in another. As the single dad, Benjamin Mee, Damon channels a certain vulnerability that comes with fatherhood. And Damon shows the sorrow and exhaustion of a newly single parent. I think it's great to see Scarlett Johansson utilizing more than just her good looks. She shows some range that we remember from Lost In Translation, Girl With A Pearl Earring and The Horse Whisperer. Johansson is not believable as a zookeeper, I mean, let's face it,.. if you were to name someone who handles a zoo or cleans animal crap for a living, Johansson would probably the last person on your list, but she seems self-composed, which allows her character to be Mee's listening ear. Outstanding work by the teens in this film, Colin Ford who plays Mee's angry son, Dylan and Elle Fanning who plays the socially awkward Elle Fanning. Their characters embody stereotypical teens and their usual problems with parents and also with peers their age. Ford and Fanning are actors who are going to rock Hollywood someday, you just wait and see.

Some things don't work for me, although I admit Maggie Elizabeth Jones who plays the little daughter Rosie is absolutely adorable, I think the film plays out her cuteness way too often, way too much. And I think it's sad that Patrick Fugit who was practically the star of Crowe's 2000 Oscar worthy movie, Almost Famous, doesn't get to have a substantial role in this film. All he mostly does is stand there in the background with a monkey on his back, how sad. Aside from the zoo aspect, the story itself, in its core, is nothing unique but that doesn't necessarily mean a bad thing. It's about difficulties of moving on. The loss of his wife, the mother of his children, leaves a mark that can't easily be replaced by the appeal an unconventional new home. But as the film suggests, sometimes plans change, and all of a sudden it's not about you anymore. And it's not a Crowe movie without such memorable lines like 'Show me the money' and 'you had me at hello', WE BOUGHT A ZOO has a hopeful message of taking chances and gambling on life through 20 seconds of insane courage, loving people, and adventurous, unadulterated joy. And if you're still asking why you should watch this movie, just say to yourself.. why not?!

-- www.Ramascreen.com --
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An Inspiring Family Film
alienator3453 January 2012
This holiday season brought audiences several great movie options to see. Out of all of them, earlier today I believe I shave seen my favorite. Not War Horse, Sherlock Holmes, Tintin, Mission Impossible, or Alvin and the Chipmunks. The winner is We Bought a Zoo. Now to be fair, I haven't seen Mission Impossible 4, but despite all the great things I've heard about it, I don't think it will strike a chord with me like We Bought a Zoo did. It is such an inspirational story with a powerful message. And it gets quite emotional in several spots. Now I'm not an emotional person typically and I've never actually cried in a movie, but this movie almost broke me. My mom, who cries a lot during movies, certainly was crying in a few spots, so its a tearjerker.

We Bought a Zoo is based on a true story. Specifically the memoir of Benjamin Mee, which is his story of, as you can guess, him buying a Zoo. There are some noticeable differences in the movie and in the real life story as I have looked at it afterwards, but those changes were adapted only after the approval of Benjamin Mee himself, who still owns and lives in the Zoo he purchased. In the movie, Benjamin, played by Matt Damon, is going through some serious family troubles. Namely, his wife the he dearly loved has just recently passed away which has made life for his young family really difficult emotionally, especially for him and his teenage son. Seeking to get away from life a bit, he decides that he wants to move and falls in love with a certain country house some 9 miles outside town. Before purchasing it, he quickly learns that it is a somewhat broken down and struggling Zoo. Despite his background as an adventurous person, he has no knowledge of Zoology. However, he decides to take on the task to help renovate and re-open the struggling Zoo. With that said, yes it is a story about a Zoo, but telling a story of how a man renovated a Zoo is not the point of this movie. It is a story of courage. A story about moving forward in life despite the difficult times. Lastly it's a story about maintaining good relationships with your family and those around you. There are a few taglines in the movie that really just jumped out at me that I will remember and use in my own personal life to help me.

Now We Bought a Zoo isn't without its flaws. There are times when I was slightly bored with it and times where it seemed to move slow. I wasn't a big fan of some of the acting by several of the more minor characters. But overall it was a very well done film. The strongest part of the movie was certainly Matt Damon. He has become one of my favorite actors recently and in this he gives a very good performance. If the Academy Awards were up to me, I would give him the Oscar for best Actor after this performance. I hope he at least gets nominated because he deserves it. The cast around him was also superb for the most part. Scarlett Johansson did a great job in the lead female performance, that being Kelly the lead Zookeeper. Elle Fanning did a great job acting as one of the younger crew members of the Zoo. Lastly, Benjamin's two kids ages 14 and 7, were done quite well. His 14 year old son Dylan, played by Colin Ford, even looked and acted like a young Matt Damon. The score in this movie was absolutely beautiful. It really made the movie. In my opinion it is one of the best scores of the year. The cinematography was also great. I especially loved the animal shots in the movie.

In conclusion, We Bought a Zoo is no action-packed, high suspense adventure movie. If you are looking for that, go check out Mission Impossible or Sherlock Holmes. What it is is an inspirational family movie that I really enjoyed. I highly recommend you check it out. I give it an 8 out of 10.
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Stop comparing to Jerry Maguire! This is a great family film.
SoloHero51 January 2012
We bought a zoo is a great movie to go see with the family. Damon flaunts his emotional acting abilities with great form but the stage stealer is young Maggie Elizebeth Jones playing Damon's seven year old daughter. Jones is an eccentric little girl who is bound to bring laughter and Aww's out of you. Elle Fanning does a great job as always; Tomas Haden Church plays his perfect role, and Scarlett Johansson levels things out very nicely.

If you want a lot of emotion with consistent laughter, We Bought a Zoo is a great Sunday afternoon choice. Bound to bring tears, smiles and laughter, with a great true story to back it up.
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It is a feel good movie and nothing else
Plumsec12 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
After seeing the rating on here; I was mildly excited to see this movie in the theater. After about 5 minutes, I saw what kind of movie this was and was disappointed in the IMDb community. Don't get me wrong, This is a good family movie to take the kids, But it is a straightforward Hollywood feel good movie and thats it.

You can call where everything is going in the first 5 minutes. Everything wrong is presented to you, and everything is fixed by the end. No hiccups. Bloody drawing? The child must be so troubled. You can guess what kind of drawing they were in the end. No Love interest, Guess what? that changes to. No money? O what do you know, Your dead wife left you 80k, isn't that nice?

It literally goes out of its way to make it feel so good. Snakes escape the night before and they all gather around the front of the house. The little girl talks like a 20 year old for the most part, and has perfect handwriting, yet her J is backwards. Isn't that cute? I would continue but you see where this is going.

It gets worse the more I think about it. I will never watch this movie again.
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A Zoo for Mee and you.
bkoganbing20 May 2012
Matt Damon stars in a wonderful family film where he plays a widower dad who buys a zoo on life support. Rather We Bought A Zoo since it becomes a project for the whole Mee family that includes his son and daughter. It turns out to be a learning and healing experience all around.

All this because Damon wants to get away from all memories associated with his late wife. So the family Mee packs up kit and kaboodle and moves out to the country where he buys a ramshackle country estate type of dwelling. The house is on a large piece of property which contains a zoo. Instinct tells Damon to move in and try and save the animals there.

Zoos are a lot of fun, but when man takes the animals from the wild he assumes their responsibility. It's a lesson that Damon's character Benjamin Mee learns and while it would be easy to dump the animals to a euthanistic fate probably, it would be ducking a responsibility. And the responsibility that the Mee family comes to love and rejoice in.

Helping Damon out is his staff that includes Scarlett Johansson as the zoo keeper. She gets Damon out of widower funk as well.

Young Colin Ford as Damon's son is well cast and a lot of that is due to him really resembling Damon at an age before he was playing Will Hunting. I'm sure up the family tree you'll find them related if you do a genealogical trace for both. He's got some real relocation issues, but in time he comes around.

Definitely either buy or rent this DVD. It has to be in Red Box by now.
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Wanted to like it... but felt totally formulaic
DesterWallaboo22 March 2012
Wasn't able to suspend my disbelief with this film. It had all the elements of a total formula film. The troubled, misunderstood teenage boy. The starry-eyed little girl. The flashbacks of mom. Some of the conversations regarding mom before she died, etc. The snakes in the crate was poorly executed IMHO. Ever seen a snake escape from a cage? They don't generally go lay out on the front lawn. Let alone hundreds of snakes. They all just happened to be lounging on the front lawn? Kind of silly. Production values were high, as would be expected in a high-budget film. But overall it just didn't flip my switch. Which is very unfortunate, as I really wanted to like this film.
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It's not Crowe's best, but it's really warm, and it works.
Christian_Dimartino30 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Cameron Crowe doesn't direct movies very often, so when he does, people should see them. Though not quite one of my favorites, Crowe has directed some great movies in his time, and some that weren't quite. We Bought a Zoo, the most straight forward title since Hot Tub Time Machine, is the best film he has done in years.

The film is based on the memoir of Benjamin Mee, a single father who doesn't know what to do with his children. So when he finds that a zoo is for sale, Benjamin takes it in hopes that it will bring his children closer to him, and restore some happiness. So he works to renovate the zoo, basically.

The rest of the cast includes Scarlett Johansson as the head zoo curator, Thomas Hayden Church as Benjamin's brother, Elle Fanning as Johannson's niece, who obviously has a crush on Ben's son, and Almost Famous's Patrick Fugit as another zoo employee. All well chosen.

Two hours of zoo may not sound that appealing. But I was charmed by almost every second of it. Damon gives a wonderful performance, the kind of sweet performance that we don't see very often, and as does Johansson, who is too hot. Sure some of it is a cliché, but it's a cliché that works very well. I haven't been charmed by a Crowe film this much since Crowe's masterwork, Almost Famous.

We Bought a Zoo is a harmless movie that really is good. I mainly wanted to see it because I like Crowe's work. Though he doesn't quite reach his Almost Famous or Jerry Maguire level, what he has is good enough for me. Please go to a Redbox and get it. You won't regret it.

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Charming, but uneasy walk between "family film" and drama
Bob-456 May 2012
I could give "We bought a Zoo" my "7" rating based just on the performances of actresses Scarlett Johansson, Maggie Elizabeth Jones and Elle Fanning. Until know, I've found the voluptuous Jahansson surprisingly resistible. However, here adorned with unattractive clothing concealing her more notable features, Johannson resorts to facial expressions and real acting to win appeal and it works. Maggie Elizabeth Jones delivers the most memorable performance by a seven year old girl since Drew Barrymore gave us "Gertie" in "E.T.". Director Cameron Crowe must have recognized this, given the "E.T." homage, when he has Jones buried among the stuffed animals. Finally, Elle Fanning's ethereal beauty of both body and spirit is the first to match Elizabeth Taylor's "Velvet Brown" in nearly 70 years.

Given all this, "We Bought a Zoo" walks a tightrope of drama, farce and cloying family fare and frequently does so unsteadily. I could imagine small children squirming at the length and pacing, parents cringing at the profanity and graphic art by the emotionally disturbed son and virtually everyone touched, but puzzled by the ending; which, while the movie's most touching scene, seems somehow out of place, even though it makes a valid point within the context of the film's theme. Given these problems, I cannot give "We Bought a Zoo" either an unqualified recommendation or a higher rating than a strong "7," but that certainly is enough.
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20 seconds of courage
tieman6427 August 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Cameron Crowe's "We Bought a Zoo" stars Matt Damon as a Benjamin Mee, a single father who purchases a dilapidated zoo. With the help of his son, daughter and a gang of likable eccentrics, Benjamin attempts to reopen the zoo ahead of a crushing deadline.

Like most of Crowe's work, "Zoo" strains desperately to be cute, magical and cosy. The film bludgeons you with cutesiness, every inch sentimental to a fault. Crowe would cite Bill Forsyth's "Local Hero" as an influence on his picture, a superior film about a man on a similar mission. Scarlett Johansson co-stars as "Zoo's" obligatory love interest.

6/10 – Worth one viewing.
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big disappointment
zemorena29 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
What a disappointment of a movie! This family is making a big change in their life by moving in the countryside and taking a zoo business on their hands. It's supposed to change them, to enlighten them, to provide some sort of inner development but it didn't seem to do so. There were no big revelations. At the end of the movie the father was still living in the past, still not moving on. There was no connection between those people and the animals, no connection between nature and man. The soundtrack would have been OK if there were a deepness to the story, but there wasn't. Scarlett Johannson - it seems her only job in this movie was to smile at Damon. She doesn't have any smart lines. And all the other people from the zoo, they were supposed to be eccentric misfits but it all stopped at clothing and accessories. No character, no friendships! Not to mention the whole cheesiness and clichés.. at every two minutes there's a voice shouting 'dead wife, dead wife, dead wife'. We got it the first time! Will you please develop a movie on that?
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Sunshine. People. Joy.
Reel_starz27 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Why should I like We Bought a Zoo? On paper, Cameron Crowe's latest self-discovery romance is a mess: it's sentimental, manipulative and self-conscious – no different from countless other inspirational family movies, from 2008's Marley and Me to 2011's inexplicably successful Dolphin Tale. And yet, against all logic, We Bought a Zoo doesn't fall into that trap. The difference between this and, say, The Blind Side, is that in the former, at least for the most part, the romanticism feels genuine, not a cheap method of pandering to parents in search of a family-friendly movie (for the record, I don't imagine that many children will find We Bought a Zoo all that interesting, despite numerous shots of animals). Thanks to a capable cast, Crowe's spirited direction and, of course, the pitch-perfect soundtrack, We Bought a Zoo is far better than it has any right to be.

Whether you enjoy We Bought a Zoo most likely depends on how you feel about director/co-writer Cameron Crowe. After the dark, bizarre Vanilla Sky and the meditative Elizabethtown, this represents Crowe's return to the energetic, lighthearted fare that made him popular and features many of his usual tropes, including the memorable, somewhat cheesy dialogue; the aimless male protagonist; the quirky sense of humor; the precocious child. Having fallen in love with Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, I was both excited and anxious for We Bought a Zoo, hoping for a career comeback for Crowe but also accepting that the chances of it being a widespread success were slim. The result is similar to what I anticipated: a heartwarming, if occasionally schmaltzy ode to the power of love. Although lacking the vivacious wit of Jerry Maguire and the nostalgic ease of Almost Famous, We Bought a Zoo has a charm of its own in its belief in happy endings and the strength of the human spirit. Thus, while those who dislike Crowe's brand of all-American naiveté will probably find the movie intolerably sentimental and disingenuous, those like me, who are less opposed to starry-eyed optimism, will discover moments of surprising emotional honesty.

Much kudos must be given to the cast, particularly the five main actors. Matt Damon is a perfect fit for Cameron Crowe, imbuing his character with just the right blend of cheerful vitality and quiet sorrow to prevent him from becoming cartoonish and delivering even the most questionable lines with tireless aplomb. Once again, he proves his ability to seamlessly inhabit virtually any role, as, with his graying hair and pudgy physique, he is one of the few A-list actors that can convincingly play a completely ordinary father of two. Taking over the prerequisite "friend" role, Thomas Haden Church puts his dry pragmatism to good use, evening out the bubbly dynamism that saturates the rest of the movie, and, although not as impressive as in J.J. Abram's Super 8, Elle Fanning displays admirable maturity for an actress her age, proving that she is undeniably one to watch out for. Nonetheless, the biggest surprises are Scarlett Johansson and Colin Ford. The matter-of-fact foil to Damon's idealist, Johansson goes against type, shedding her usual sylphlike sensuality in favor of something more down-to-earth and restrained, displaying a subtle composure evocative of her work in such films as The Horse Whisperer and Ghost World. As the bitter, volatile Dylan, arguably the juiciest part in the movie, newcomer Colin Ford (whose most notable credit so far is a recurring guest spot on the TV show Supernatural) displays considerable self-control, turning what could have easily been a stereotypical, angst-ridden teen into a complex person. Like Alex Schaffer, who had a similar turn in Win Win, he joins an astonishingly long list of promising young performers this year.

We Bought a Zoo is not perfect. Unlike the aforementioned actors, young Maggie Elizabeth Jones does not fare so well as Mee's innocent, outspoken daughter. She is undoubtedly adorable, yet she is never quite believable and fails to transcend the angelic child cliché the way Jonathan Lipnicki did in Jerry Maguire, and some of her scenes are almost cringe-worthy in their excessive cuteness. The first thirty minutes are uneven, relying too heavily on ham-fisted idiosyncrasies and rather clumsy attempts at humor, which is a shame since it is precisely those moments that Crowe handled with perfection in romantic comedies like Jerry Maguire and Say Anything. The scenes involving the amateur real estate agent are especially unpleasant; luckily, there are only a few. Only after the family moves into the new house and begins to interact with the zoo workers does the movie find its groove.

The 2011 movie year has brought a surprising trend: a return to optimism. From the wide-eyed wonder of Super 8 to the whimsical nostalgia of The Artist, numerous films have displayed a willingness to break from the dark cynicism that has suffused recent cinema and embrace a newfound sanguinity. Maybe, then, We Bought a Zoo could not have been released at a better time. With its boundless energy and can-do attitude, not to mention radiant cinematography and sweeping score (composed by none other than Jónsi of Sigur Ros fame), this is the epitome of exuberance, a bright declaration of faith in humanity rarely seen in modern film. At first, I was hesitant to accept We Bought a Zoo (something about its brazen cheer felt outdated, contrived), yet around the halfway mark, I realized that I was tearing up. Then, during an unexpectedly raw argument scene, I outright cried. Maybe the movie is nothing but a cheap ploy for emotion, a series of scenes designed to manipulate viewers into experiencing feelings inorganic to the story and characters, an inauthentic, condescending portrait of false ideals. In the end, though, I couldn't help but succumb to the film's bold sensitivity, its simple tale of triumph over adversity and redemption through love. To answer the question posed at the beginning of this review, I will say what Benjamin Mee would probably say: Why not?
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A so-so family movie
WatchedAllMovies7 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Not sure what kind of movie this is. There a little bit of romance, a little bit of this and that. While I patiently watched the first hour or so, I become more impatient as the movie drags on. The rebellious son turned to good boy thing is such a clique. When they started the father-son talk, I fast forwarded out of there.

At first the zoo looks like a small zoo with a few animals, but every few minutes a new animal appears out of nowhere. There isn't any cute animal to steal the show though.

The romance between the two couples aren't very convincing. I don't think Matt Damon is very well suited for this movie.

Plot wise, it's as simple as Hollywood movie formula. You can guess the ending way way early.
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It was at least well intentioned, but could it have been ANY more cloying?
Ryan_MYeah18 January 2012
At the end of the day, I found myself underwhelmed by We Bought a Zoo. I really wanted to care for it more than I did, but somewhere during the filming of this movie, the emotional response I should have had just got lost by the film makers. Cameron Crowe at least puts good effort into his direction. His photography is lovely, the music by Jonsi is wonderful (Especially the beautiful ending song "Gathering Stories"), and Matt Damon, as always, gives a great performance, earning honest sympathy.

But this is about as far as I can go. The rest that Crowe does isn't particularly great. There's some decent performances, including Thomas Haden Church's occasional humorous touches, and John Michael Higgins playing... John Michael Higgins. But then we also have Scarlett Johansson, who continues to leave me a bit disappointed, making me wonder if she'll ever prove her excellent performance in Lost in Translation was more than a fluke.

Then we get down to Crowe's biggest issue, his own script, which practically shouts mediocre. There's a scene in the film where Damon gives a small, cheesy speech to pep up the zoo workers, and then the film cuts to a small monkey slapping its own forehead. What you might see as a throwaway gag, I saw as an unintentional self metaphor. The movie forces schmaltz on us, especially in the dialogue, which is seriously awful. I sometimes hear people complaining about War Horse, mainly because detractors point fingers at so called "forced sentimentality". If they think THAT'S bad, wait until they get a load of this sucker.

** out of ****
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We Bought a Zoo
lasttimeisaw25 May 2012
Saw this one in the cinema, after a 6-year hiatus, Cameron Crowe eventually has returned to his director chair (documentaries excluded), but this a cliché ridden family dramedy clearly isn't on a par with his prestige works like ALMOST FAMOUS (2000) or JERRY MAGUIRE (1996), despite being interimittently sparked by a bunch of decent animal cameos.

As oversimplified as most Hollywood production, the film never dare to touch a more fly-on- the-wall level of bona fides, one might take it for granted of the situation like that it is so common for an American single dad with two children to buy a zoo and swiftly tackles with the reconstruction of their home with such great ease and casualness (not to mention the film is based on a true story).

The film is generally pleasant but discharges a phony posing all over the places, substantially reaches its summit when a tempestuous row between the bereaved father and son (it seems a weight-gaining Matt Damon hasn't done such strenuous work for ages), to give vent to all the suppressed displeasure accumulated, which is a banal gimmick only viable in the dramatized contrivance.

Scarlett Johanssan is clearly under the way of re-washing herself in her unassuming and more down-to-earth role (unexpectedly convincing in it, thanks to the lame kiss between her and Damon, another lame Hollywood trickery) after almost a decade from her breakthrough young leading lady status of GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING (2003) and LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003) and ironically she is still pining for her Oscar-nomination wannabe's entrance, which is quite gloomy for now (the upcoming THE AVENGERS surely cannot be considered seriously).

Cameron Crowe's previous flops have left him be shut out in the elite group of Hollywood bankable directors. (typically ALMOST FAMOUS is an unmountable barrier erecting mercilessly in front of him). This family-oriented project cannot act as his last straw, maybe he still has another shot, but the lukewarm credibility can mar his future path quite certainly.
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gouldnland25 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I really can't believe that anyone thought this movie was worth watching, let alone good. this is the kind of movie that if I were watching it on an airplane, I would think about jumping off.

There is nothing at all believable about this, and even though this is based loosely on something oddly true, it is so shallow, so poorly written, so completely without believable characters that this should make anyone cringe.

Beyond belief bad, beginning with someone buying a zoo on a whim, a fourteen year old who suddenly wakes up from the dark, IE.. drawing decapitation pictures to blurting out "I love you" to a twelve year old, the thing is amateurish, childish, and breathtakingly pathetic.
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All heart, no head
sayloroct23 July 2012
This is the kind of movie that used to be marketed with the ad line, "The feel-good movie of the year." If you like such movies you will probably like this. If you expect more from a movie, like plot and coherent character development, plausible scenes, etc. the your response will likely be somewhat mixed.

This movie came straight off the assembly line with the full compliment of audience manipulation gimmicks. Grieving inconsolable widower. Check. Rebellious son who bonds with his father. Check. Cute, preconscious little girl. Check. Cute animals are risk. Check.

The movie's message, repeated many times over, is that everything turns out good in the end. If it isn't good, then it's not the end. I hate to tell the writer, but we don't get top decide when it's the end. But that's the kind of movie this is. All heart, no head.
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We Bought a Zoo, but should you buy a ticket?
keiichi7328 November 2011
Cameron Crowe's We Bought a Zoo is a harmless movie about some very nice people who, yes, end up buying a zoo when they go looking for a new place to live. Unfortunately, while the movie is harmless, it's also not very interesting. Same goes for the people. They're nice and all, but don't seem to have a lot on their minds. Even the zoo animals seem kind of bored. This certainly isn't a bad movie, just a very familiar one.

The film is based on the true story of Benjamin Mee (played here by Matt Damon), a single father who is coping with the recent passing of his wife, and having to raise his two children on his own. His teenage son, Dylan (Colin Ford) is your typical isolated young man, who expresses himself by getting in trouble at school, and drawing graphic pictures of death in class. His younger daughter, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), is one of those cloying little movie kids who always has something cute or clever to say on cue whenever the camera is pointed at her. He also has a supportive brother (Thomas Haden Church), who is mainly there for sarcastic comic relief. Benjamin decides the time has come for a change when Dylan is expelled from school, and he himself becomes fed up with his newspaper job, and walks off. He wants to start a new life for himself and his family.

He finds the perfect home somewhere in the Southern California countryside. Naturally, it's the one that the realtor seems the most nervous about, due to the fact that the house comes with its own struggling private zoo. In what has to be one of the biggest impulse buys in the history of cinema, Benjamin decides to buy the house when he sees how happy his little daughter is around the animals. I certainly hope there was more than that behind his decision to buy the property in real life. The family moves in, and they take charge of the zoo, which comes with its own staff of colorful stock characters. There's Kelly the zookeeper (Scarlett Johansson), who serves as somewhat of a love interest for Benjamin. The zoo's staff even has a teenage zookeeper (Elle Fanning) to act as a love interest for Dylan. There's an attempt at a subplot about Fanning's character trying to help Dylan come out of the emotional shell he's been in since his mother died. Too bad it never really works on an emotional level. Maybe if she had been written as an actual character, rather than someone whose main character trait is to smile a lot.

The rest of the staff is made up of eccentrics and oddballs that the movie can't think of anything to do with, so they're not worth mentioning. I understand what Crowe was going for here - He wanted to make a big-hearted movie about a family's emotional healing after a crisis, and how this family adventure of trying to run the zoo brought them closer together. You can literally see the screenplay co-written by Crowe trying its hardest to push our emotional buttons. You can also see him throwing just about every audience-pleasing trick in the book. A cute child, a shy teen romance, the struggle to save a sick tiger, a monkey who makes cute little reactions to what the characters say, a father trying to move on from his painful past, as well as connect with his emotionally distant son...It gets to be a bit much. I have not read the book that inspired this film, so I don't know if things actually happened this way. But, it felt awfully manipulative and contrived to me.

I was also put off by the severe tonal shifts that go on throughout the movie. The stuff concerning Damon and his son are actually pretty good, and there are some honest moments. But then, there are a lot of moments that are so overly sentimental or broad that they seem like they belong in a different movie. Thomas Haden Church is one of my favorite actors, but his role as the dry-witted brother is out of place. He's like a character on a sitcom, his every word a sarcastic quip. Equally out of place is John Michael Higgins, who plays the film's villain, a safety inspector who wants to close down the zoo, and does his best to find problems with it. Higgins plays the part too broad. As soon as he steps out of the car with that confident and smug smirk plastered on his face, you know what role he's supposed to play. And that smirk never leaves his face. It's like he's silently telling us at all times, "Yep, I'm a jerk. How can I be so terrible to these nice people? Don't you just hate me?"

We Bought a Zoo wants to wear its great big heart on its sleeve, and it does. But then, for some reason, it thinks we don't notice, so it keeps on hammering good, sunny feelings into each scene to the point that I started to feel assaulted by the film's manipulations. Like I said, I have not read the book that the film is based on, but I have a sneaking suspicion it's more honest and subtle than what's up on the screen. It has to be, because it's real life. This movie is an overly sunny, sitcom-level imitation of real life.
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Good (not great) Family Movie
nancy4523 December 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This was more of a family movie than I expected. It's a wholesome story demonstrating good values and doing the right thing. There is no sex or violence, and very little "language." (Spoiler alert - basic plot to follow - no ending revealed) It's the story of a recently widowed father (Matt Damon) who needs to start live over in a new environment to help him recover from the loss of his wife. He has a fourteen-year-old son who is having psychological issues and an adorable seven-year-old daughter. The daughter, played by Maggie Elizabeth Jones, is the best thing about the movie. After searching unsuccessfully for a new urban home, he finds a country home that is perfect, except that it is also a zoo. The zoo is fully staffed (with who else but Scarlett Johansson as the zoo keeper), but is in disrepair. You can guess the rest of the story. It's a feel-good plot, enjoyable, nothing too complicated, and appropriate for the whole family. There's even a little pre-teen romance.
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