We Bought a Zoo review (DVD)

Crowe's best feature since Almost Famous, We Bought a Zoo is based on the true story of Benjamin Mee, a former Guardian columnist who took over Dartmouth Wildlife Park as a going concern. He and his inexperienced family have a made a success of it since it reopened in 2007 as Dartmouth Zoological Park.

The film moves the story to California with Damon playing Mee as a grieving widower who quits his job at a newspaper and buys the zoo to give himself and his teenage son (Ford) and young daughter (Jones) a new life. At first, the staff at the zoo don't take kindly to the new owners. Head keeper Kelly (Johansson) is determined to have the place ready for its reopening – despite the nitpicking of fussy inspector Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins) – and thinkns that the new owners are just getting in the way. She does, though, eventually soften and develop geniune feelings for the widower, while home-schooled teen Lily (Fanning) falls for Mee's rebellious son Dylan (Ford).

It's often sentimental and conventional, but for the most part We Bought a Zoo is an enjoyable watch. There are a few cliches – Macfadyen as a sozzled Scott, and Fugit walks around with a monkey on his shoulder – but kids will find all the animals delightful and the cast all work hard. Despite the early tone of a family coming to terms with the death of a wife and mother, it's s a light film for the most part, though Damon and Ford do share a very good scene together, arguing as father and son about how they both feel mistreated by the other.

Don't expect an action-packed, suspenseful adventure film, because you'll be well disappiointed. We Bought a Zoo is a warm and inspiring family drama that once again shows what a fine actor Damon has become.

EXTRAS ★½ Just the feaurette It's a Zoo (23:25), in whihc the cast, crew and trainers talk about what it was like working with the animals.

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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