Based upon the book by Benjamin Mee, “We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, A Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals that Changed Their Lives Forever”. Succinctly stated and accomplished. The actual Zoo is in England; the movie takes place in California.
Matt Damon, whose seasoning as an actor keeps pungently improving, is reason enough to see this heart -warming film; he is “Benjamin Mee” an adventure writer who looses his beloved wife “Katherine”, recognizes the morass of grief that is suffocating his soul, and crippling the parenting of his young children, “Dylan” and “Rosie”.
It is with trepidation that I go the the “family film”, quaking with anxiety at the saccharine PG rating; I am a curmudgeon when it comes to the cute, quick, precocious child who speaks in continuous quips, crying rivers, slurping up the hog’s share of viewer attention, empathy; the child, rarely fostered, the child in “The Brady Bunch” or “Father Knows Best”; I prefer “Gilbert Grape” or “Regan” (“Exorcist”) , “Cole” (“Sixth Sense”). That being stated “We Bought a Zoo” features one of the most darling, enchanting performances by a child in recent years: Maggie Elizabeth Jones as “Rosie” is sensational, riveting; a face as luminous and legible as the young Shirley Temple, her every expression, word, plummets your heart with joy; she is an effervescent 7- year -old prodigy and you root for the success of the Zoo for her sake.
Rosie’s emotional opposite, “Dylan” her 14- year -old brother (finely depicted by Colin Ford); is surly, cantankerous, painfully lost without his mother, a budding artist focusing on Goth: dark, gory, vivisected creatures. Legitimate, realistic portrait of unfathomable, premature pain and loss. Elle Fanning as “Lily” adds spice, levity and nullification to Dylan’s torturous, tedious, solitary life.
Scarlett Johansson is fresh-faced loveliness, masking a will of steel as “Kelly” the Zoo Keeper; she excels in this vital, wholesome role. Thomas Haden Church is “Duncan Mee” Benjamin’s brother, a comic voice of wisdom, that no one heeds. Church adds spark and spunk to any film he graces.
There are the obvious messages and metaphors but resonating throughout the film is Benjamin’s love for his departed wife; it pulsates, defines his existence, can never be replaced; it is enshrined, embedded, entombed in a sacred, untouchable vitrine. There are couples who connect, their magnetism electric, so heady that with the departure of one, the voltage evaporates and can never be recharged, duplicated again.