We Bought A Zoo review

Crowe's first feature since the godawful Elizabethtown is based on the true life tale of Benjamin Mee, the former Guardian DIY columnist who upped sticks with his family and took over Dartmouth Wildlife Park as a going concern. He and his inexperienced cohorts have a made a success of it since it reopened in 2007 as Dartmouth Zoological Park.
 
Crowe's movie relocates the story to the sunny environs of California with Damon playing Mee as a grieving widower who quits his job and buys the zoo to give himself and his teenage son (Ford) and infant daughter (Jones) a new life. The employees of said zoo don't take kindly to the new owners at first. Chief zookeeper Kelly (Johansson) is determined to have the place ready for its reopening amid the scrutiny of pernickety inspector Walter Ferris (Higgins) and looks upon the interlopers as little more than useless. Home-schooled teenager Lily (Fanning) falls for Mee's rebellious son. Macfadyen overacts as a sozzled Scott, while Fugit (remember him from Crowe's Almost Famous?), now grown up with stubble, does little but walk around bemused with a monkey on his shoulder.
 
Kids will find all the animals delightful and the cast try hard but there's little drama for them to sink their teeth into, though Damon and Ford share a very good scene together, arguing as father and son about how they both feel mistreated by the other. It's a chance for them to be impassioned and one feels invested in their dilemma - but it's the only scene in the movie where the emotions ring true. For the most part Crowe hammers you over the head with sanctimoniousness and sentimentality, manipulating the tear ducts with overbearing determination. It made me want to vomit.
 
It's prettily photographed however and there's the customary use of good songs on the soundtrack from the writer-director, but overall this treacly morass of half baked pieties leaves one clutching for the sick bag.

We Bought A Zoo at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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