“ Genre: Comedy / Parental Guidance / Director: Cameron Crowe / Actors: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning, Carla Gallo ... / DVD released 2012-07-16 at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment / Features of the DVD: PAL „
I bought this DVD for my daughter for Christmas and although she watched it not long after, I hadn't watched it till last weekend on our family movie night.
What attracted me to this movie was that it is actually based on a true story, written by Benjamin Mee. Also that Matt Damon plays him... The film is set in America but the "real" story is Dartmoor Zoological Park in Devon, England.
The film was released in 2011, directed by Cameron Crowe and lasts 124 minutes.
The DVD was bought for £5 but is currently on Amazon for £3 with free delivery.
This film has some excellent acting, not surprising when you look at the key cast member. Matt Damon is Benjamin Mee and Scarlett Johansson is Kelly Foster. Mees children are played by Colin Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones.
The story sees Mee coping with his son and daughter following the death of his beloved wife. He is clearly the object of the school mums affections and things are not going well with trying to balance is life as a journalist and the needs of clearly upset children. In the search for a new home, he comes across a lovely house, only to find it is part of a zoo package. This film is all about overcoming adversity and is quite emotional / heart warming at times. The life on the animals giving insight into how the humans are feeling.
I enjoyed this film, it felt honest and it was easy to warm to the characters within it. It kept all our attention throughout (I have children 11, 13, 15). Slightly predictable but not annoyingly so.
I am going to give this film a 4 star rating as it feels worth a watch.
Dear me! I suppose it's difficult to be hard on a film as inoffensive as this; but I'll try.
If we want to be kind we could call this a heart-warming family story.
If we don't we could call it a formulaic load of old tripe that's been revoltingly sweetened with saccharin. Given that it's set for the most part in a zoo, other comparisons spring readily to mind, but I shall spare you.
Take any ordinary guy who just happens to have the film star looks of someone like, say, Matt Damon, is incredibly talented at his job, has been left a massive inheritance (enough that he can just walk out on said job) and who has recently become a widower, leaving him in charge of two kids, both of them irresistible in their ways.
He decides to move away and make a new start. He needs to get over his wife's death and his son has been expelled anyway for behavioural problems (because, of course, he misses his mum) so as good a time as any to change to a new school.
While being shown properties for sale by an agent whose first day this is, (would you believe it?), and who is played by an actor who clearly watched too many Eddie Murphy movies while he was growing up, Benjamin (our hero, Matt Damon), falls in love with a big rambling house, only to find that it has a zoo attached (obviously). This is the kind of challenge for which he's been looking, so he buys it and they move in. But hold on, the zoo comes with a staff of assorted oddballs whose jobs are at risk if the zoo isn't renovated quickly (lucky he has that inheritance, then) and passes a zoo test under the menacing eye of zoo inspector Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins). That's neat, we've got a baddie and we've got a built-in climax to work towards. How convenient.
So we've got a handsome hero battling against the odds saddened by the loss of his wife (awww) and having to bring up the children the best he can on his own (awwww). We've got kids; one of whom is troubled but talented and needs mothering (awww) and the other who is incredibly cute (awww). Oh yes, and then we have the animals (roar and aww). There's a baddie ( grrrr) who's probably going to make it very difficult for Benjamin and the crew to get the zoo open on time. And we shall have a series of amazing twists and turns (shock and awe) Oops! I forgot to mention that Benjamin has a brother who, coincidentally, is an accountant and can help him sort out his money issues (ahhh). Chuck in the oddball zoo workers and the estate agent for a bit of comedy and pathos here and there and we're on a winner.
Just a minute! There's something missing. What is it? Oh yes, wouldn't it be good if there just happened to be a ravishing young woman with latent maternal instincts knocking about in the neighbourhood? I know! Let's make her the zoo keeper! And if she just happens to look like Scarlett Johansson, so much the better. In fact, how about we include a random twelve year old girl who appears to have no parents, no school and no home to go to apart from the hut where she lives, but she's very pretty and sweet and immediately takes a shine to young, troubled Dylan (Colin Ford). In an ideal world we'd cast Dakota Fanning in this role, but she's too old. Got it! We'll cast Elle Fanning, Dakota's kid sister. Even if audiences are bored out of their minds with the storyline, they'll still be able to amuse themselves by trying to work out who she reminds them of.
I'll bet you're all agog now to find out what happens. Will they get the zoo ready in time, especially when it looks like Benjamin's inheritance is going to run out? Will it pass the test? Will they survive runaway grizzlies, sickly tigers and man-eating lions? Will Benjamin get over his wife's death sufficiently to notice that Scarlett Johansson wants to start a zoo with him? Surely they won't end up together? And will young Dylan forge a better relationship with his father and tell Elle Fanning that he loves her (which still feels a bit wrong to me)?
Obviously I'm not going to spoil all the surprises for you.
Why Am I Being So Nasty To Such A Cute Little Film?
What's disappointing is that this film is based on a true story. There really was (and is) a Benjamin Mee, a British writer who set out to rescue a failing zoo, but actually on the edge of Dartmoor, not southern California, and then was left alone with the children, having lost his wife. The real story is every bit as dramatic, in fact downright wonderful, and if told well, without the crass attempts at kookiness and schmaltz, would have made a cracking film; the sort of film that we could have made so much better here in Britain.
That it wasn't made in Britain isn't the fault of the producers, or of director Cameron Crowe, but it IS their fault that they didn't aspire to something higher with such a good story.
There ARE plus points. It is harmless and quite pleasant, actually, if you like popcorn with your popcorn. Production values are high as one would expect. The leads are as good as the script and director Cameron Crowe allow them to be. I thought Elle Fanning was good, and little Maggie Elizabeth Jones should have won an Oscar for Best Cuteness in a Supporting Role. The animals might easily have stolen the show, but actually we got far too little animal action, considering this film has the word "zoo" in the title.
We expect a mainstream film to have a strong generic identity. Even the best films take from the stock of generic characteristics in order to work for their audiences. But a good film will bring something back to the store. It helps to replenish the stock through its own creativity and inventiveness. When it relies solely on cliché to achieve cheap effects, then it gives nothing back and is weak in its own right. Pleasant and inoffensive as this film was, I'm afraid it was just such a film.
Matt Damon Benjamin Mee
Scarlett Johansson Kelly Foster
Thomas Haden Church Duncan Mee
Colin Ford Dylan Mee
Maggie Elizabeth Jones Rosie Mee
Angus Macfadyen Peter MacCready (as Angus MacFadyen)
Elle Fanning Lily Miska
Patrick Fugit Robin Jones
John Michael Higgins Walter Ferris
Carla Gallo Rhonda Blair
J.B. Smoove Mr. Stevens (as JB Smoove)
Stephanie Szostak Katherine Mee
Directed by Cameron Crowe
Running Time 131 minutes
Initial Release 2011
Available on DVD and Blu Ray for as little as £7.00 (DVD) and £8.72 (Triple Play)
Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon), an adventure-seeker lost his wife six months ago and struggles with his teenage son and young daughter. When he quits his job and his son is expelled from school, Benjamin decides to move house and begins the biggest adventure of his life yet, buying and running a zoo.
Although he is incompetent at first, with the help of head zookeeper Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson) and the gang of workers, there may just be a chance they could renew the zoo for opening in just a few months. But when financial trouble, an evil inspector and even the weather is against them, Mee is challenged to pour all of himself into the project.
Based on a true story, the film is well paced and contain a deep narrative. Dealing with relationship themes, themes of loss, love and sacrifice, it is uplifted by comedic moments, especially from shining young actress Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who is irresistibly cute and full of life.
There are things within the movie which almost anyone can relate to and it has a subtle but powerful message whilst being deeply entertaining. The animals were very exotic and gave it a whimsical, artistic effect.
Although the plot is rather predictable, it is none the less enjoyable and the ending is satisfactory, one which the whole family will enjoy.
Scarlett Johansson- Kelly Foster
Matt Damon- Benjamin Mee
Also stars Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning, Colin Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones.
Matt Damon takes on a different kind of role in this movie, but still manages to impress emotionally, a strong character to lead the rest of the cast, all of which hold their own.
Scarlett Johansson, as lovable as she is, seems to purse her lips with a semi-smile in 90% of her scenes which as much as I like to see, does not create a very diverse character in Kelly Foster. Thankfully, a dramatic fight scene saves her from being one dimensional and gives her a chance to show range.
'We Bought A Zoo' is the perfect family movie, full of emotion, humour and uplifting moments. We definitely need more movies like this in the cinema. Although linear and somewhat predictable, it is a brilliantly fun yet deep story for the whole family, the brilliant cast led by Matt Damon.
We bought a zoo is based on a book of the same name by Benjamin Mee. The book tells Benjamin's true story about him and his family bought a zoo in Devon, England and went about renovating it. I can't remember how I first heard about this book but I read it a few years ago and to be honest I found the story a difficult one - although the context of the book was good and it was on a topic I was interested in and I wanted to see what would happen next I just didn't feel that drawn to it like I had imagined I would. However, I did still enjoy the book so therefore when I heard there was a film coming out I decided that I absolutely had to see it because I was eager to see how the story was portrayed on the big screen and I also thought it would be a nice story to revisit.
As usual, I didn't quite make it to the cinema to see this but luckily when I looked yesterday on Sky Box Office it was showing on there so yesterday evening me and my partner decided to watch it. I thought that it would be a film that we could watch together as it's definitely not a chick flick and I thought that the content would appeal to my partner because it's such an amazing story. As we watched this on Box Office it is a film only review.
The film begins by introducing us to Dylan; he is fourteen and has been playing up at school. His Dad, Benjamin is understandably angry and he is trying to convince Dylan that this kind of behaviour is not the way to go. When he learns that Dylan has not read a book he was supposed to for that days class he is not happy. He's in the middle of telling Dylan he's on his last warning at school and how he must behave when Dylan cuts in saying that they aren't likely to punish someone who's Mum died just six months ago.
Dylan is upset and this statement brings a resounding icy tone to the car. His little sister Rosie looks sad and Benjamin doesn't quite know what to say. He's relieved when he finally pulls up at the school however he is then subjected to more stress - women giving him lasagne to take home, Dylan's school bag breaking etc. All he needs is a break so he is happy to be meeting his brother for breakfast but of course, that all goes pear shaped too when he suggests they go to the diner that Benjamin first met his wife in.
Getting back to work, where Benjamin is a writer brings more upset to the day when the editor suggests that Benjamin is kept on for a type of freelance work. Benjamin flips. He knows he wants to let him go but is just playing the freelance card out of sympathy - he's a man who's just lost his wife and he's trying to look after a troublesome fourteen year old and a seven year old. He storms out of the office and decides that he's not writing any more.
At home that evening his daughter, Rosie is kept awake by the neighbour's party. It is then that Benjamin decides they are moving. It is best all round, a fresh start for them all. Away from the memories of their beloved wife and mother. The next day, he and Rosie go house hunting but nothing is suitable. They are just giving up hope when they stumble upon a house with a lot of land. Benjamin is excited but the estate agent has reservations...the land is home to a zoo.
When I initially heard that this was being made into a film I was very excited because I think that Benjamin's story is brilliant and I was keen to see it brought to life. However, this is an American film and although usually I don't have any reservations about American films I just felt that this one may have been better off being kept British as the biggest pull to the book for me was that it had happened in Devon, somewhere relatively close to home, that I had visited many times before and for me, this really aided the story coming to life and made it even more thrilling for me because I couldn't quite believe how interesting it would have been to embark upon Benjamin's adventure. However, when I heard the leading roles would be played by Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson I did soften a bit because they are big names and very strong actors and I knew that they wouldn't have agreed to do something unless it had a very good script etc.
The opening of the film is good and it really helps to highlight how much the Mee family are struggling with life after the death of Katherine. Rosie seems to be the only one who is willing and wanting to talk openly about her mother, Dylan is at a difficult age as it is and Benjamin is too distraught to talk about it. Benjamin and Dylan have a strained relationship and this is really highlighted in the opening of the film which helps to set the scene and gives the impression that Benjamin, although trying his hardest, really doesn't know what to do.
As soon as Benjamin and Rosie have visited the zoo the pace of the film really picks up as there is so much going on. The zoo is in need of complete restoration and they are working to a deadline. Sadly, Benjamin didn't quite anticipate how much this would cost but zoo animals are an expensive business what with their food, medication, bedding, enclosures and at many points Benjamin did seem close to giving up.
I don't know how true to life the characters in the film are but I have to talk about Rosie here as she is amazing and brings so much to the film. She is very similar to Karen from Outnumbered in the fact that she says things so matter of factly and is a very determined young lady. She is absolutely adorable too and, although she is only seven she has taken on the women's role in the household and taken it all in her stride.
Benjamin is played by Matt Damon and although it sounds silly I kept forgetting it was Matt Damon despite the fact that I am a big fan. In the film he has longer hair and wears glasses so therefore he was visually different to his usual self however, I also haven't seen him in a role like this before where he is a family man and the film isn't filled with action. I was very pleased with his performance as I felt it was very strong and he really helped to depict exactly what was going on with Benjamin throughout. I really felt his pain for losing Katherine and it was obvious how much he was trying to provide a future for his children.
Dylan is a strong character and is interesting to watch because of course, at fourteen he is struggling with teenage life as it is, this is bad enough without losing your mother and then moving away from all that you know to a rundown zoo. Although Dylan initially shows a hard exterior as the film progresses it is easy to see that he is really struggling with all the changes over the past few months and all he wants is to feel happy and himself again. He is fond of Rosie which I thought was nice because often at this age they are like cat and dog with younger siblings but it's clear he really cares for her.
The other main character is Kelly, the head zookeeper who is played by Scarlett Johansson. She is a very strong woman figure and is determined not to let the zoo disappear. She is extremely fond of the animals and isn't afraid of hard work. Initially I did think that Kelly had a bit of a hard exterior which meant it wasn't easy to see what she was really like but as the film progressed we got to know her more and more and she was a lovely character who had a lot of love to give.
The acting in the film is first class. There are so many emotions depicted throughout the film - bereavement, grief, anger, sadness, happiness, discomfort, joy and many many more and all of these are done very well. The actors really seemed to get inside the minds of their characters and I feel that they depicted them very well.
Of course we cannot forget the animals as; after all they are the zoo! Beautiful animals are in this film and they really helped make the film what it was. I love animals, as does my partner and it was brilliant to see these animals on screen and for them to be given a personality without being given a voice. Any pet owners will know just how big an animal's personality can be but often I find this is ignored in films unless the film is animated and the animal has a voice. This film was all realistic and no animals spoke but it really helped to get across the animals personalities too due to their behaviour and also what the humans said about them.
The plot of the film was interesting and it kept my attention well. Although I already knew the ending of the film and to be honest it was fairly predictable too even if you hadn't read the book I still enjoyed watching the events leading up to this and seeing what would happen along the way. My favourite part of the film was probably when the Mee family first arrived at the zoo as there was so much uncertainty about how this was going to end and the family found it a very difficult time what with needing to get to know the members of staff, meeting the animals and learning about their care, renovating the zoo and making it a safe and comfortable place for the animals and also the opposition faced from the outside. It was common opinion on the outside, especially with the authorities that Benjamin was going to fail. This made the Mee's and the zookeepers work even more difficult as they began to doubt themselves too.
The ending of the film was perfect and was similar to that of the book which did please me because after all this is based on a true story and I think it is right to show what really happened to Benjamin and how it happened. I felt the ending was just the right length as everything was explained and covered but it did not drag on at all and everything fitted in really nicely. It was one of those films that when the end credits began rolling you realised you needed to stop smiling now so it was a good ending.
==How true is it to the book?==
Although the film is based on the Mee family and their story I found there were quite a lot of differences in the film compared to the book. I did find that the film in my opinion should have been made more similar to the book as this was the true story but I don't know if this is because I read the book first and therefore saw that as how things should be. A lot of things were changed and some of these changes were good as it added to the plot of the film and helped to run the story more smoothly but some I felt should have definitely remained the same. The main one that jumped out at me immediately as the film began was that in the book and therefore in real life, Katherine was still alive when they bought the zoo. I don't know why the film producers felt the need to change this but personally I feel as though the film may well have had a stronger plot if it began with Katherine still alive as it would allow us as the audience to get to know her a little aswell and therefore understand Benjamin's, Dylan's and Rosie's grief better.
The film was released in 2012 in the UK.
The DVD is now available but you can also rent it on Sky Box Office for £3.49.
It stars Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Colin Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones.
It has a run time of 124 minutes.
It was directed by Cameron Crowe.
It is rated a PG in the UK.
I did enjoy this film a great deal. Initially I did have reservations because it is instantly recognisable from the opening that a lot of things were changed from how things really happened however I think the film works really well. Personally I would have felt more drawn to the film if it was made in England because I think it would have helped to assist the realism of the film. However, the plot was fun and fast and flowed very well making it an enjoyable watch. The acting was very strong and I loved all of the characters and at times felt as though they were my family.
Overall, I did really enjoy the film as did my partner and would certainly watch it again and recommend it to friends. I thought it was a fun drama which depicted a true story well and made a very interesting watch. Great film for families or any animal lovers.
You can find out more about the real life zoo and Benjamin and his family here http://www.dartmoorzoo.org/
* Film Only Review *
"We bought a zoo" is a 2011 film which is loosely based on the book/memoir of the same name, by Benjamin Mee. The film was first released in the US in December of 2011, appearing in UK cinemas shortly afterwards. The film is due to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK during July 2012.
** THE PLOT **
Benjamin Mee (Played by Matt Damon) has recently lost his wife, and is struggling to cope with his grief whilst raising his two children and juggling his job with his busy home life. His adolescent son, Dylan, is having trouble at school and finds himself repeatedly clashing with his father over many issues, with his moods not being helped by his grief over the loss of his mother. Dylan's younger sister, Rosie, is only 7 years old, and finds the tension at home between her father and her brother difficult, as she struggles to come to terms with her own grief.
After a series of rather difficult events, Benjamin decides that some sort of change is needed to move his family forward a little, as he feels his family can't really move on with their lives properly in their current situation. Deciding that moving home would help his family come to terms with their loss a little, Benjamin enlists the help of Mr Stevens, a real estate agent to help Benjamin find a new family home for him and his children. They eventually stumble across the perfect abode.... A beautiful house, which seems the perfect size and in the ideal location, and Benjamin and Rosie immediately fall in love with the place. Mr Stevens has to work hard to try and curb Benjamin's enthusiasm a little, to be able to tell him the one vital piece of information about the property that has so far escaped Benjamin's notice...... The property is attached to a Zoo.
Will Benjamin be able to cope with the pressure and hard work involved with running a crowded zoo? Can he make the business a success and get all the current problems ironed out? And what will Dylan make of his father's decision to embark upon this new project?
** MY OPINION **
I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed watching "We bought a Zoo" recently, and it is a film that I plan to buy on DVD when it is released later this year. It's popularity with yours truly is no big surprise given I am a huge animal lover, and so any film which centres its main story around a selection of animals is always going to be a popular choice.
It struck me as being the type of film that I think you can put on and enjoy without needing abundant amounts of mental concentration or indeed any sort of 'hard work' being required, thanks to its laid-back, easy-watching nature. It is also the type of film that can be enjoyed time and time again, as some of the little 'quips' and one-liners are often lost the first time around. For me personally, I will never tire of seeing some of the beautiful animals that are in the film, such as "Buster" the gorgeous brown bear or "Solomon" the stunning male lion. My favourite by far however, is the elderly, but feisty "Spar", a 17 year old tiger whose character delivers a vital 'sub-plot' to the main storylines contained in the film. I don't want to deliver any spoilers in this review, but I will say that the relationship between human and animal is displayed spectacularly in this film - on more than one occasion, and never with so much emotion and true feeling as with the storylines surrounding Spar. Beautiful.
The 'human' cast of the movie did a great job too. Matt Damon in particular delivered a faultless performance as Benjamin, his usual 'action-packed' scenes being nowhere in sight for this particular role. I will admit to being slightly apprehensive about the actor's lead as the sensitive, grief-stricken Benjamin, being more used to witnessing Damon playing a soldier or a character in a fast-paced background. I needn't have worried however, and I thought the actor did a rather fabulous job at portraying Benjamin's emotions, particularly when we witness some extremely emotional scenes following Benjamin's journey coping with the loss of his beloved wife. Matt Damon did a wonderful job in convincing me of his grief and his feelings of loss, and I thought the scenes were handled with enough sensitivity and emotion to make them credible. Credit where credit is due... A lot of actor's would have 'fluffed' these scenes, making them feel rather 'slap dash' which would have tarnished their emotional content, in my opinion. Thankfully, this wasn't the case at all, and each and every emotion could be seen on Damon's face, in his body language and was delivered beautifully by the actor. In actual fact, I found there were one or two moments in the film that were so moving and sensitive that I found myself rather close to tears, much to my husband's amusement as we were sitting on a packed plane to America at the time! I hope this doesn't put any readers off however, as it is a film that I would thoroughly recommend, but perhaps have a tissue on stand-by if you are moved by emotional films, or films that have content about grief contained in them.
I can appreciate that the image portrayed by my review thus far may give the impression that the story and film is far from being a fun-packed, laugh-a-minute jovial piece, but this is not the case. Indeed, there are several 'laugh out loud' moments throughout the film (again... rather unfortunate for me that I watched the film on a packed plane..!) as well as some amusing antics involving the animal inhabitants of the zoo. The film DOES have one or two emotional story-lines tied into the main plots, but I didn't feel that this was at all negative, and they were not overly 'hammed' up in the way that films so often are. I felt that there was an excellent balance of humour alongside the sad storylines so that neither felt like it was overtaking in any way.
The rest of the main cast were credible enough in their respective roles too, so that none of the main actors took anything from the film overall. Scarlett Johansson plays Kelly, the head zoo keeper and leader of the rest of the zoo employees. Whilst she could never be described as one of my favourite actresses, I felt that her performance was strong enough in her supporting role to convince me of her abilities, and she never appeared shaky or wooden. I didn't particularly like the character of Kelly, finding her a bit 'mouthy' and standoffish, which may well have been intentional but didn't help my initial reservations about this piece of casting.
The rest of the supporting cast were excellent, and in particular the rest of the employees at the zoo offered some great comedic moments scattered throughout the film. The child actors in the movie too were faultless, with Colin Ford playing Dylan Mee, the adolescent son of Benjamin perfectly, conveying anger, tears, upset and emotion all with apparent ease when necessary. The young Maggie Elizabeth Jones starring as 7 year old Rosie Mee was slightly less outstanding, but this is probably down to her part in the movie being slightly less than her co-stars, rather than her own abilities. And given the young actors' respective ages, I think they all did an excellent job and credit is most definitely due.
Overall, I would highly recommend the movie "We Bought A Zoo" and I enjoyed it so much that I am now intrigued enough to seek out the book by Benjamin Mee to see how it compares. It is most definitely a film that I would highly recommend for some light-hearted humour balanced with a rather emotional storyline that has a real 'feel-good' factor to it too. I would definitely buy the movie on DVD as it is a film I would enjoy watching again....... And again.