Home Video Hovel- We Bought a Zoo, by Sarah Brinks
There is an old Hollywood saying, “Never work with kids or animals”. Apparently Cameron Crowe never heard it, or just didn’t listen and it’s a good thing he didn’t. Crowe’s most recent film with the unfortunately specific title We Bought a Zoo is a delightful and heart-warming film. Matt Damon anchors the film as the newly widowed father of two, Benjamin Mee. Benjamin is an adventure journalist now facing his greatest challenge; being a single parent after his wife Katherine dies of cancer. His son Dylan (played by Colin Ford) is a troubled kid struggling emotionally with the loss of his mother and acting out in school to the point that he is expelled. Benjamin’s other child is the adorable, wide-eyed seven-year-old Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). Rosie clearly misses her mother but is young enough to deal with it better than Dylan. Rosie falls into the trope of being wise beyond her years but her angelic face and childlike glee makes her a delightful part of the film. In an effort to give his family a new start Benjamin buys a zoo that has been shut down by the state with the intent to reopen it by the summer. Naturally Dylan is upset about having to leave his home where he knew his mother and where all his friends are. Rosie on the other hand is very excited about it. The zoo is run by an eccentric group of zookeepers including: Scarlett Johansson, Angus Macfadyen, Elle Fanning, Patrick Fugit, and Carla Gallo. Johansson is the head zookeeper and love interest that sacrifices her social life for the good of the animals and her love of the zoo. There are no big surprises in the film. The zoo brings the Mee family back together and helps everyone to heal. While not being a challenging film We Bought a Zoois clever, funny, sincere, well acted, and beautifully shot.
One of the best parts of We Bought a Zoo is the supporting cast. Thomas Haden Church plays Duncan Mee. He strikes a nice balance between playing the caring bother of a widower and the fun, out-spoken uncle. He wants his brother to be happy and to start to move on with this life, but he recognizes that Benjamin has lost the great love of his life and it isn’t that easy to move on. John Michael Higgins brings his singular, comedic talent as the hated zoo inspector Walter Ferris. His dry delivery fits perfectly with the characters need to flaunt his limited power over the zoo’s staff. It is up to Ferris whether or not the zoo is allowed to reopen. The eccentric Scottish zookeeper Peter MacCready played by Angus Macfayden particularly hates Ferris. MacCready accuses Ferris of stealing his enclosure ideas and five hundred dollars back in the 1990’s. MacCready is a wild character that seems as comfortable in the animal enclosures as out.
The animals in the movie are beautifully filmed. You understand why the Mee family would want to protect them. Rosie becomes particularly fond of the peacocks that roam the zoo. Benjamin becomes attached to a seventeen-year-old Bengal tiger named Spar that is struggling with old age. The Spar plot line mirrors the struggle the family had with Katherine’s battle with cancer. There is also a beautiful lion named Solomon, a seven hundred pound American grizzly bear named Buster, and a whole cast of other animals that give the film personality and levity.
The 3-disc Blu-ray of We Bought a Zoo has a lot of special features. The first disc has an audio commentary with director Cameron Crowe, actor J.B. Smoove (who plays the charismatic real-estate agent), and editor Mark Livolsi. Overall there is over two hours of special features including almost 40 minutes of deleted or extended scenes. There is a gag reel with some genuine laughs. Also an interesting special feature called ‘The Real Mee’ which is a half hour with the actual Benjamin Mee at Dartmoor Zoo (the zoo the movie is based on). Mee talks about the history of the real zoo, the struggles in the beginning with getting the zoo up and running, and his hopes for the zoo’s future. You get to see the real Mee family, the real enclosures and animals, and some of the Dartmoor Zoo staff. There is also a nice feature called ‘Their Happy is too Loud’, which is all about the score and soundtrack for the film. Crowe admits that he had always been afraid of scores and had simply used records to score his past films but working with Icelandic musician Jónsi he found a sound for We Bought a Zoo that he was very happy with. Another interesting feature is called ‘We Shot a Zoo’; that looks at We Bought a Zoo all the way from finding the site for the fictional Rosemoor Animal Park in Thousand Oaks, California, to actually building the zoo from scratch, to rehearsals and filming. The second disc contains a DVD copy of the film with the commentary track and the behind the scenes feature. The third disc is a digital copy of the film.
If you are looking for a film that the whole family can enjoy We Bought a Zoo is an excellent choice. I can recommend picking up the 3- disc Blu-ray; you get a lot of extras for the money and three copies of the film. We Bought a Zoo is quite rewatchable and the extras are interesting and entertaining.