Movie review: ‘We Bought a Zoo’ a shaggy tale with loads of heart
Although it’s far superior to last summer’s toothless comedy “Zookeeper,” and it holds the promise of something warm and friendly from long-absent director Cameron Crowe and the always reliable star Matt Damon, the feel-good family film “We Bought a Zoo” is an odd cinematic creature that’s neither fish nor fowl.
Part drama of family loss, father-son conflict and middle-aged anxiety and part cuddly comedy of cute kids, cuter animals and budding romance between a widowed father and a harried zookeeper, the story is well-meaning but suffers from the same problem that sabotaged Crowe’s last picture, 2005’s rambling “Elizabethtown.” It’s a hodgepodge of interesting, potentially compelling parts that never quite gels into a satisfying whole.
Crowe and his co-writer Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada”) aim for something heartwarming and PG-rated in this Americanized adaptation of British journalist Benjamin Mee’s touching memoir about buying and restoring a ramshackle zoo in an effort to heal his family while his wife was dying of brain cancer.
The film moves the tale from Devonshire, England, to Southern California and casts Damon as Mee, an adventure-seeking newspaper writer still grieving over the recent death of his beloved wife (played in flashbacks by Stephanie Szosak).
Mee casts about looking for a fresh start and a way to connect with his two confused kids. Angry teen son Dylan (brooding Colin Ford) channels his bereavement into macabre drawings of bloodletting and decapitations and gets expelled from school. Seven-year-old daughter Rosie (adorable Maggie Elizabeth Jones) misses her mom and looks to her overwhelmed father and anguished brother for support.
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