MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★
Who suffers family tragedy and then decides to up sticks by purchasing a zoo? Well, it’s loosely based on a true story, although in reality the wife and mother passed away after the zoo’s purchase which makes a little more sense. We Bought a Zoo is filled with overwrought sentimentality which is actually rather endearing by the end, despite the film feeling rather wayward in the middle proving that it really didn’t need to be over two hours long.
Lions and tigers and bears – oh my! The film begins with Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) still grieving the loss of his wife with his two children, Rosie aged 7 (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and Dylan aged 14 (Colin Ford). Dylan is a rather troubled child and in a particularly dark place after the loss of his mother which opens up a very sweet father-son relationship for the film. Benjamin decides that the best way to try and move on from the family’s loss is to find a new house, only to find out that the ‘dream house’ he sets his heart on, well, it’s actually zoo. Not very convincingly, Benjamin suddenly decides that this is his dream and moves his family away to try and bring the zoo back to its former glory with many family struggles and practical difficulties along the way.
As stated, the film isn’t terribly convincing in the way it sets out its premise. It’s such an absurd decision and Benjamin seems far too normal a man to suddenly decide this is what he wants to do and of course very few of the practical realities are considered. But what makes it work are some of the very sweet family relationships. ‘Sweet’ is definitely the right word for this movie. It’s not perfect, it’s not nearly funny enough to be a comedy and it feels a little insipid for a drama, but fundamentally it has a really warm heart and a perfectly decent family film. It’s also aided very nicely by a soundtrack provided by Jónsi (of Sigur Ros fame), whose sublime, ethereal textures can bring emotion out in pretty much anything.
We Bought a Zoo is out now in the UK. Running time 124 mins. Certificate PG (UK).
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Review by David Rank