November 19, 2017

“We Bought a Zoo” is Heavy on Drama, Light on Animals

we bought a zooA dilapidated zoo serves as the backdrop for Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) and his two young kids as they attempt to piece their lives back together 6 months after the death of their wife and mother.

 

Of all the titles “We Bought A Zoo” could have had, the film is not really about a zoo, or the light-hearted, childlike associations that come with one, but the people and the heavy problems that inhabit it.

 

The cast of humans is a menagerie of colorful characters, to be sure.  I particularly enjoyed newcomer Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who plays 7-year-old Rosie Mee, as well as Elle Fanning as Lily, the homeschooled farm girl who is a ray of sunshine in Benjamin’s angst-ridden son’s otherwise dark life.  Both of these girls positively light up the screen.

 

The rare visits with the zoo animals, like a 750-pound grizzly bear named Buster, and the details about them, aren’t spotlighted enough.  I enjoyed learning new animal facts, like the guttural sound tigers make is called “chuffing,” but I wanted even more.  Just as the title misleads, the dealings with animals are the few times “We Bought a Zoo” could be thought of as a kids’ film.

 

Viewers mostly get insight into Benjamin’s mourning and his kids’ failure to thrive…complicated stuff.  Early on, Benjamin’s brother gives a crude speech about how his lonely, widowed brother needs to find company, and not of the 4-legged kind.

 

When Benjamin blurts out to his teenage son, “We have a little 7-year-old girl in this house who still believes that the Easter Bunny is real!”  I was glad my older children missed seeing this “kids’ movie” with me.  Thank goodness it went right over my 3-year-old’s head, who later said the movie was “boring.”

 

It is an interesting movie, with a solid premise, as I kept reminding myself it’s actually based on a true story.  But don’t be fooled, it’s not a kids’ movie, or even a comedy for that matter.  It is rated PG, but I think a PG-13 rating would be more fitting.

 

In the end, I’d skip taking elementary school-aged kids to see “We Bought a Zoo” unless they’ve lost a significant person in their life.  In that case, it might be a good way to talk about grief and loss. Unless that’s the case, go see it with other adults or wait for it to come out on video.

 

 

 

 

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