We Bought a Zoo (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

We Bought a Zoo (2011)

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Cameron Crowe is a filmmaker I love mainly because he wears his heart on his sleeve.  There are a lot of scenes in his films where people make grand sweeping gestures of love or capture a person in a moment of joy.  Either you like this type of moviemaking or you find it corny.  As a person who also wears his heart on his sleeve, most of his films have hit me right in the center and We Bought a Zoo is no different.  I see the flaws in this film; the humor is slight, some of the characters are thin and it is trying its hardest to ring emotion out of you, but all those things didn’t matter .By the end, I was a blubbering mess and was happy to see the director make the most “Cameron Crowe” film since Almost Famous.

            The movie opens up 6 months after the death of Katherine Mee, wife of Ben (Matt Damon) and mother to Dylan and Rosie. The months since this tragic occurrence has not been kind of the family with Dylan acting out in school, Rosie acting much older than her 7-years, and Ben barely hanging on.  When Dylan is expelled,   Ben realizes he needs to change the scenery and starts looking for a new place to liveThe house that Ben and Rosie like the most has some “quirks” in the fact that it isn’t just a house but also a zoo with many exotic animals and a staff. Ben is about to leave the property and keep searching when he looks over to see Rosie laughing and feeding some peacocks.  The look of joy on her face and the fact that after everything that happens, she can still be happy helps him make a rash decision and he decides to buy the zoo.

How could you not want to buy her a zoo?


Mee burns though all of his money and then some trying to get to opening day.  He is hoping to recoup most of his expenses but nothing is easy. He has a surely teenager who hates it there and is making his life difficult, an inspector with a vendetta (a very over the top  John Michael Higgins) and more and more expenses on making sure the zoo will be ready for their opening day.  Through all of this, Ben is also trying to finally cope and move on with his life.

Some people might find the fact that a person would sink all of their money onto a zoo to make their kid happy would be far fetched but I totally bought it.  I have two young daughters that I would do anything for and if I had the funds, I would buy them a zoo in a moment too, especially if they went through something tragic.  Like I stated earlier, I am a man who wears his heart on his sleeve and since I became a father, I am even more emotional.  So when I saw the little girl in the beginning of this movie, I knew she would be the end of me when it came to losing it in the film.  I couldn’t have been more right.

There are many touches that Crowe does so well and many of them are in this film.  We have emotional/sweet scenes set to just that perfect piece of music, a character makes a declaration of love in the rain and great dialogue from actors giving it their earnest best.  In lesser hands all of these moments and blatant playing of emotions would come off as cheap, but Crowe and his actors balance on that line and never cross it into cheesiness.

This could only work in a Crowe film.


We Bought a Zoo is not a perfect film.  Some of the secondary characters are not given anything to do in the film but give lines that further the plot.  One such actor that was given a nothing role was Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous) as Robin.  I am writing this review less than an hour after watching it and I could not say what his job was in the film, although I think he was some type of zookeeper.  The movie gave him no personality or story and the only way he left an impression on the film was because he was the guy with the monkey.  John Michael Higgins was also given a nothing role and he is painfully inserted in the film as “the villain.”   The two scenes he was in were the worst moments in the movie and painful to watch.  Neither the role nor the performance was funny at all and the movie would have been better without them.  Finally, the old Tiger who was slowly dying was a bit on the nose with the themes of the movie (although I must admit still worked on me) and could have been a little less transparent.

These flaws in the film did not detract me from wanting to give this movie a giant hug when it was all over.  That is I would have given the movie a hug at the end if I wasn’t in my seat, trying to hide the fact from the rest of the audience that my eyes were very red from the tears the movie had produced from me.  Cameron Crowe prides himself on being “uncool” and this movie would fit under that banner.  There are countless things that people could point at and scoff, lines of dialogue that cynics would roll their eyes at and it would be easy for jaded people to make fun of this film. Yet, if one is looking for a film that wants to make one hold their loved ones a little closer or remind one of how sweet and affecting a movie can be, a person could do a lot worse than We Bought a Zoo this holiday season.

Damon is the heart and soul of the movie and does wonderfully.

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Posted by Ryan

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  1. Nice review Ryan. Without Cameron Crowe on the director’s chair, or the whole cast that this flick assembled, I honestly think this would have been just another cheesy, schmatzly, and way too sentimental pic. However, it’s heart is in the right place and I found myself fairly pleased leaving the theater.

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