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WE BOUGHT A ZOO – News/reviews

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7 years ago
  • Scottferguson
    Sep 26th, 2011

    Particularly with the long-lead sneaks, there was a small amount of thought this film might be a late entry into the race.

    Variety review:

    We Bought a Zoo
    By Rob Nelson



    Read other reviews about this film

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    20th Century Fox release presented in association with Dune
    Entertainment of an LBI Entertainment, Vinyl Films production. Produced
    by Julie Yorn, Cameron Crowe, Rick Yorn. Executive producer, Ilona
    Herzberg. Co-producers, Paul Deason, Aldric La’Auli Porter, Marc R.
    Gordon. Directed by Cameron Crowe. Screenplay, Aline Brosh McKenna,
    Crowe, from the book by Benjamin Mee.
    Benjamin Mee – Matt Damon
    Kelly Foster – Scarlett Johansson
    Duncan Mee – Thomas Haden Church
    Robin Jones – Patrick Fugit
    Dylan Mee – Colin Ford
    Lily Miska – Elle Fanning
    Rosie Mee – Maggie Elizabeth Jones
    Walter Ferris – John Michael Higgins
    Peter MacCready – Angus MacFadyen
    Delbert McGinty – Peter Riegert
    Katherine Mee – Stephanie Szostak
    Mr. Stevens – JB Smoove
    “We Bought a Zoo” is an odd bird,
    warm-blooded but largely lifeless. Adapted from Benjamin Mee’s
    autobiographical account of his experiences as the new owner of a
    fixer-upper menagerie, Cameron Crowe’s overlong pic works hard to
    deliver intermittent pleasures, most of which derive from Matt Damon’s
    affable lead turn. Animal action, as well as comedy of any variety,
    remains curiously sparse as Crowe strains to make a tribe of his human
    characters, including a ragtag zoo-keeping team and the widowed Mee’s
    two kids. Sneaked nearly a month in advance, Fox’s holiday offering
    lacks the zip needed to drive upbeat word of mouth.

    Though faithful to Mee’s book in many respects, Crowe’s “Zoo” shifts
    the setting from the British countryside to Southern California, and
    starts with Mee’s wife, Katherine, having already died from illness
    (she’s played in flashbacks by Stephanie Szostak). Like the soul-seeking
    protags of Crowe pics past, Damon’s grieving Mee decides early in the
    film to turn his life upside down, abruptly quitting his job as an L.A.
    newspaper journo and moving himself and his kids — teenage Dylan (Colin
    Ford) and 7-year-old Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) — to a rural
    property whose 18 acres include the Rosemoor Animal Park.

    Shuttered years ago, but still home to members of several dozen
    endangered species, Rosemoor is run by the twentysomething Kelly Foster
    (Scarlett Johansson), a workaholic animal lover who’s skeptical of Mee’s
    intentions until he opens his pocketbook and proves his concern for the
    likes of Buster, a 650-pound grizzly bear, and Spar, an aged and ailing
    tiger. Mee also has to deal with his own brood, particularly Dylan,
    whose bereavement takes the form of stubborn apathy for all but his own
    ornately grotesque drawings.

    Where Crowe’s classics, “Say Anything” (1989) and “Jerry Maguire”
    (1996), work their magic in no small part through indelible supporting
    characters, “Zoo” is an altogether messier affair. Among an ensemble
    that never quite coheres are Kelly’s teen cousin Lily (Elle Fanning),
    who flirts with Dylan; Robin (Patrick Fugit, who played Crowe’s alter
    ego in “Almost Famous”), who keeps a capuchin monkey on his shoulder;
    MacCready (Angus MacFadyen), who drinks hard and has a bad temper; and
    Mee’s accountant brother, Duncan (Thomas Haden Church), who shows up
    every now and then to wag a finger at his impractical sibling.

    Crowe, who co-wrote the screenplay with Aline Brosh McKenna,
    clearly wishes to celebrate the group’s tireless efforts to reopen the
    park, but only Damon, convincing and likable throughout, has been given
    enough to do. As played sweetly by Jones, young Rosie is just another
    implausibly precocious pre-tween who, like Johansson’s underwritten
    Kelly, exists largely to smile approvingly at the hero. The animals’
    reaction shots appear somewhat more nuanced, though, believe it or not,
    “Zoo” manages to shortchange its non-human performers as well.

    Per usual for a Crowe film, the soundtrack comes stuffed with
    goodies, although the mix of Neil Young, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, among
    many others, lacks the moments of musical epiphany in the director’s
    signature works. The score by Jonsi of Sigur Ros sounds a touch
    saccharine and doesn’t mesh well with the vintage pop.

    Tech credits, with the exception of the shapeless cutting, are
    solid but hardly vivid enough to compensate for the pic’s deficiencies.

    Sep 26th, 2011

    David Rooney/H’wood Rep likes Damon’s performance a lot:

    20th Century Fox

    The Bottom Line

    Bottom Line: Cameron Crowe’s film has some rough edges, but it ultimately
    delivers thanks to Matt Damon’s moving performance.


    Dec. 23


    Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church


    Cameron Crowe


    NEW YORK – Returning to dramatic features after a six-year break,
    Cameron Crowe takes the feelgood family route with the
    rigorously sweet-natured We Bought a Zoo. Arguably the director’s least
    typical film, it doesn’t dodge the potholes of earnest sentimentality and at
    times overplays the whimsy. But the uplifting tale has heart, humanity and a
    warmly empathetic central performance from Matt Damon. To quote
    his character, “It has lots of cool animals too.”

     our editor recommends

    Crowe Reveals How He Seduced Matt Damon for ‘We Bought a Zoo’; Names His 5
    Favorite Movies

    Damon’s ‘We Bought a Zoo’ to Sneak on Thanksgiving Weekend

    Johansson and Matt Damon Star in ‘We Bought a Zoo’ Trailer (Video)

    Fox is positioning the PG release as wholesome holiday fare in the Marley
    & Me
    vein, opening Dec. 23; the studio ran nationwide sneak screenings
    over Thanksgiving weekend to build what will likely be buoyant word of mouth
    from the target audience. Fans of Crowe’s work hoping to see him back on edgier
    form after the misstep of Elizabethtown may be ambivalent. But while
    the film is unevenly paced, its poignancy and joyfulness exercise a stealth

    COVER STORY: Cameron Crowe Reveals How He Seduced Matt
    Damon for ‘We Bought a Zoo’; Names His 5 Favorite Movies

    Using British journalist Benjamin Mee’s memoir as a loose
    template, the screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil
    Wears Prada
    ) and Crowe shifts the story from Devonshire, England, to
    Southern California.

    Mee bought the zoo while his wife was undergoing treatment for a brain tumor.
    The film begins six months after her death (Stephanie Szosak
    plays her in flashbacks), with Benjamin (Damon) still crushed but
    looking to make a fresh start for their kids, teenage Dylan (Colin
    ) and 7-year-old Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones).
    When brooding Dylan is expelled from school for theft, Benjamin quits his job at
    a Los Angeles newspaper and starts shopping for properties outside the city.

    PHOTOS: From ‘The Artist’ to ‘War Horse,’ 22 Awards Contenders
    That Prominently Feature Animals

    Against the advice of his older brother
    Duncan (Thomas Haden Church), Benjamin spends his inheritance
    on a run-down zoo. Long closed to the public, it nonetheless comes with some 200
    animals and a motley handful of unpaid staff, led by zookeeper Kelly
    (Scarlett Johansson).

    The principal narrative driver is the mission to get the money pit of a zoo
    up to inspection standards in time for a planned reopening. But Crowe balances
    the action between underpowered workplace comedy – a depressed grizzly bear, a
    crate of runaway tropical snakes — and the more heartfelt personal stakes of a
    still-grieving family. Most of the conflict comes from Benjamin and Dylan, who
    are too alike to communicate effectively.

    The seesaw of suspense leading up to the grand reopening becomes somewhat
    mechanical, with obstacles thrown in the protagonists’ paths only to be cleared
    in a repetitive pattern of despair followed by relief or exultation. The film is
    not without contrivance or cliché, but the characters are drawn with enough
    sincerity to make the script’s manipulations forgivable.

    Crowe said in interviews that his model for this movie was the Scottish
    director Bill Forsyth’s minor-key 1983 charmer Local
    ; he pays homage by casting Peter Riegert as
    Benjamin’s editor. What We Bought a Zoo has in common with that earlier
    film is a genuine depth of feeling. There’s also a lovely lightness of touch in
    the application of romance as a healing balm, both in the cautious attraction
    between Benjamin and Kelly, and the unguarded affection for Dylan of Kelly’s
    12-year-old cousin Lily (the increasingly luminous Elle

    As always in Crowe’s films, music plays a crucial role in shaping mood. That
    goes for the lilting tunes by composer Jónsiof Icelandic cult
    band Sigur Rós, and the eclectic song selection, which shuffles
    oldies-but-goodies with contemporary tracks.

    While most of them are given little to chew on, the cast is solid. In
    Johansson’s understated performance, Kelly is smart and perceptive, drawn to
    Benjamin but too serious about her work to flirt. Church’s wry affability is the
    ideal contrast to Damon’s somber restraint; Ford balances anger with raw hurt;
    and Jones is adorable even if her precocious character suffers from Crowe’s
    fondness for overwritten, movie-ish dialogue. As one of the zoo
    staffers, Patrick Fugit doesn’t get to do much beyond lope
    around with a capuchin monkey on his shoulder, but it’s nice to see Crowe’s
    Almost Famous alter ego along for the ride.

    The force that binds the disparate characters together and anchors the story
    in emotional truth is Damon’s Benjamin. His struggle gives the movie a soulful
    pull, even at its most predictable. Whether he’s pleading with an ailing Bengal
    tiger not to give up the will to live, lost in melancholy solitude or yelling in
    frustration at his son about a shared pain that neither of them can express,
    Damon brings integrity and intrinsic decency to a character just searching for
    the courage to emerge from grief.

    ReplyCopy URL
    Sep 18th, 2011

    Suprisingly, i’m interested in seeing this.

    ReplyCopy URL
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