We Bought A Zoo claims to have been based on a true story; I double-checked the facts on Wikipedia (now that it is back online) and it seems to be true. Now that I think about it, it has to be true. Had this film not been “based on a true story”, it would have remained in development hell. The premise is so preposterously naïve that no Hollywood screenwriter could have come up with it, and no Hollywood producer would have backed it had it been an original idea. After all what type of character would ever buy a zoo on a whim?
Anyways, there really was a Benjamin Mee, who bought a Zoo back in 2006 and worked on it with his family in order to reopen it in 2007. But the movie has altered the facts a bit to include the necessary love story. But once again according to Wikipedia “In the movie, the zoo is called Rosemoor Wildlife Park and situated in California instead of Dartmoor Zoological Park in England, but the story remains the same”.
If you need me to elaborate further, Benjamin (Matt Damon) buys the zoo in an effort to move past his wife’s death and reconnect with his children, Dylan and Rosie (Colin Ford, Maggie Elizabeth Jones). Money is not as big an issue as you would expect, Benjamin has a small inheritance, and his former wife made sure he was financially sound before her death. So off he goes in an adventure, and ends up meeting Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), a lovely zookeeper who looks like Scarlett Johansson. Coincidentaly Kelly also has a niece Lily (Elle Fanning), so Ben’s kid also gets a love story.
By now you have probably realized that this movie isn’t particularly groundbreaking. Cameron Crowe has made some of my favorite films, Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky. We Bought A Zoo, lacks their heart; this is one of those cases, and there are plenty, where formula would have better been left on the shelf. The is nothing particularly wrong with the film; the acting is great, Cameron Crowe knows his way around the craft, and the story is engaging enough. But somehow I felt that the set up should have more juice to squeeze out than an average family film.
There aren’t even enough animal human scenes. Most of the animals are just there on the background providing the setting. A few get names but they don’t make memorable characters.