Taking a risk is always scary. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, we all have to take risks in life. In his new movie, We Bought a Zoo, director/writer Cameron Crowe tells the story–along with co-writer Aline Brosh McKenna–of Benjamin Mee. Mee took the risk of leaving his job as a journalist to become the owner of a defunct zoo/wildlife preserve after the death of his wife, Katherine, all while trying to raise the couple’s two children. Boasting beautiful cinematography and more than enough animals to make any young viewer squeal with excitement, it’s a good family movie. But it isn’t without a single, major flaw.
Movies based on actual events are nothing new to the entertainment world. The thing is, though, that so many of those movies follow a given general theme of say, sports and other arenas. Enter the new Cameron Crowe helmed/written We Bought a Zoo. This story that is based on actual events is unlike most other movies of its ilk in that the story seems so outrageous that it’s nearly unbelievable. It has lions. It has tigers. It even has a bear. Sounds familiar, huh? No, it’s not that movie. And yes, that bad joke was intended. But it has more than enough animals to keep the attention of even the youngest viewer. As entertaining as all the animals may be, the deeper concept of Benjamin and his kids dealing with Katherine’s death may be a bit heavy for those younger viewers.
We Bought a Zoo centers on the death of Benjamin’s wife, Katherine. The story doesn’t allow itself to get bogged down in what exactly happened that led to her death. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t spend extra time trying to delve into that storyline. It’s a good thing because the resultant drama between Benjamin and his son Dylan (played by Colin Ford) and Bejamin’s own internal conflict do cause the story to get mired in itself. The script does attempt to balance the family drama caused by Katherine’s passing, and Benjamin’s attempt to bring the zoo back to life. But what happens as a result is that it noticeably slows the movie’s pace more than once, including at the story’s end. It’s enough to make a person want to hit the fast forward button on the remote more than once.
That the story gets bogged down in itself is an issue in the movie’s overall enjoyment. However, there are families out there who have lost a parent, leaving one parent to shoulder the burden of raising a child/children on his/her own. It’s a monumental task to carry that burden. And there’s no denying how well Damon and Ford present that emotional turmoil. The pair’s acting make both Dylan and Benjamin sympathetic characters. It makes them relateable to audiences. Combine the impressive acting of Damon and Ford with the heart warming story and the beautiful scenery and cinematography, and We Bought a Zoo ends up being a good family film. Given, it’s hardly the best from 2011. But it presents wonderful messages about healing and about the need to take risks in life. Those are messages that even if it fades into the masses of movies based on actual events, will always keep it a favorite among at least a certain niche audience.
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