Look, Kids! We Got a Zoo

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

I cried. I’m just going to start with that little fun fact, because I really don’t normally cry, especially during cute, little family films. At least three times during this movie, though, I was full-on sobbing. I was not prepared to go into a movie as emotionally taxing as this one.

While it seems like an innocuous true story of the Dartmoor Zoological Park, be warned: this is a tear-jerker, albeit a fantastic one. It’ll turn on the waterworks, for sure.

This was easily the best movie of the year (and I saw “50/50”!).  Yet again, Cameron Crowe writes and directs a brilliant story that tugs at your heartstrings.

Crowe has always had an unrivaled talent at making a life’s story personally relatable. In “We Bought A Zoo,” Crowe perfectly captures a heartbreakingly tense parent-child relationship (see: “Almost Famous”), forbidden love (see: “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”) and a somewhat socially awkward, yet highly lovable main character (see: “Say Anything”).

The film focuses on the members of the Mee family, who are recently recovering from the death of the mother. Everyone in the family tries to cope differently. Dylan (Colin Ford), the son, rebels in school and immerses himself in his dark and twisted art. Benjamin (Matt Damon), the father, tries to avoid everything that may remind him of a time when they were all happy, and he ends up buying the dilapidated and bankrupt Rosemoor Wildlife Park in Northern California. The story follows the family and their attempt to salvage both the zoo and their relationships.

While the premise may seem a bit recycled, it comes off beautifully. There are a few points in the movie where I felt like it was a bit contrived (wait until the scene when the son leaves the box of snakes open, and you’ll know what I mean), but they were so few and far in between that I didn’t mind them.

I was really thankful for the subtle love story not being overplayed; I was worried a couple times that Damon and Scarlett Johansson would end up kissing each other’s faces and the whole movie would be subsequently ruined (I didn’t go to see a rom-com, ya know?).

Given that Crowe is a master at the “highly idealistic person trying to make it in a new field despite many obstacles, especially a difficult mother/son/girlfriend/etc.” genre, I had really high expectations. I expected a lot from Damon and Thomas Haden Church, who plays Benjamin’s older brother Duncan, but I still was really impressed.

It’s a touching story, complete with comedy, drama, love and brutal, brutal honesty. I highly recommend this film, and the only thing I dislike is the fact that I can’t give this movie more than five stars.

Rating: 5 out of 5