We Bought a Zoo – A Preview

Little girl to father: “Why don’t you tell stories anymore?”

Father to Little Girl: “Because we are living the story…”

If given the choice, I would usually stay well clear of a film that had this kind of cringe worthy dialogue unless, however, the film was directed by Cameron Crowe of Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire fame and starred Matt Damon.  Low and behold, this is the case as the two have come together for the comedy/drama We Bought a Zoo from 20th Century Fox.

We Bought a Zoo is the story of Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon), a devoted father and husband who, during a turbulent time for his family due to the death of his wife, decides to relocate his family, consisting of fourteen year old Dylan (Colin Ford) and five-year-old Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), and buy a run-down Zoo based in Southern California. Benjamin soon realises he may well have bitten off more than he can chew as not only must he take care of his disjointed family but 200 animals, rising debts and his new staff of zoo-keepers including Kelly (Scarlet Johansson). Benjamin is not deterred and is determined to succeed in his new life and determined to rescue his family.

While this might sound like a story dreamed up by Hollywood, the film is actually based on real life.  We Bought a Zoo is a book by British Journalist Benjamin Mee who documented his family’s decision to purchase Dartmoor Zoo in Devon back in 2006.  But unlike the movie, it was the death of his father and his mother’s desire to move which prompted the purchase.  It wasn’t until 3 months after moving into the zoo that his wife, Katherine, unfortunately passed away and it began to hit home the enormity of the task at hand.  The real Benjamin wrote in the Guardian back in 2007 “as the grim living conditions, bad weather and lack of money came home to roost. Fending off creditors became a full-time job.”  Not very glamourous, and by all accounts, the zoo is still struggling. But it seems that Cameron Crowe has managed to produce a feel good movie without compromising his indie style.  What more would you expect from a director that has been called the “great heart of American cinema”.

Despite Cameron Crowe’s 5-year absence after the commercial and critical failure of Elizabethtown, he is still considered one of the best directors in the business with Almost Famous heralded as a classic in some quarters.  Say Anything has certainly stood the test of time and I more than enjoyed Jerry Maguire and Vanilla Sky (…as you may have read last month, I have a thing for Tom Cruise!).  And with Matt Damon as the leading man, this is certainly a recipe for success.  It’s hard to judge if We Bought a Zoo will simply try to tug at your heartstrings and actually work as a drama in its own right, but given Cameron Crowe’s body of work thus far, I’d recommend buying a ticket to find out.

(First published in January’s Groove Korea Magazine)

Categories: Film, Previews

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