“We Bought a Zoo” has a deceptively simple plot: Adventure-Seeker/Widower/Single-Father loses himself in a giant project to escape his pain. Don’t count it out yet, however. There are plenty of cats in here to keep us interested for the duration.
Of course, you say to yourself. There must be cats in this story – after all, it’s about a zoo. But this, our first installment here at Franny’s Feline Film Forum, has no domesticated beasts in it at all. Instead, it’s the big cats that reign surpreme.
Matt Damon plays Benjamin Mee, the aforementioned Adventure-Seeker/Widower/Single-Father. He doesn’t know his troubled fourteen-year-old son (he draws morbid artwork instead of applying himself in school). He couldn’t get by without help from his seven-year-old daughter (she makes the lunches and reminds her dad about daily chores). His job has hit a stand-still. And doggonit, his neighbors are a bit noisy. (“Their happy is too loud,” his daughter Rosie informs us.)
What’s a guy to do? Move. And, boy howdy, they find the perfect house. It’s big, it’s gorgeous, it’s…. a zoo? Apparently if they buy the house, the small zoo on the property comes with it. Oh dear. Now we’re having second thoughts. This is crazy, Benjamin says.
Cue first cat: we have a close-up on Solomon the lion and his oh-so-wise eyes. It’s almost as if he’s pleading with the Mees to stay.
And stay they do.
What happens throughout the film is your run-of-the-mill fixer-upper story. The zoo’s in shambles, but Benjamin’s got heart, so he puts his whole self into it. Along the way we have a pretty girl for him (Scarlett Johansen), a new friend for his son (Elle Fanning), and a rather surly zoo inspector (John Michael Higgins) intent on keeping the zoo from ever opening. Of course there are the usual trials and tribulations, ups and downs, etc, etc, but wait – the kittens return to keep it interesting.
One of the secondary plots concerns the seventeen-year-old tiger Spar. He’s old. Really old. Too old. He should be put down. His medicine is expensive and it takes extra effort to keep him up and about. Plus it’s almost as though he himself has given up.
The entire zoo staff says it’s time to let him go, but Benjamin won’t budge. He can’t imagine just losing hope, throwing in the towel, and all other expressions of helplessness. He’s fought so hard for so long that he can’t even imagine the zoo without him in it.
Wait a minute… Are we still talking about Spar the tiger here? Benjamin’s self-reflection and veritable demon-examination culminates in his inevitable purification. It’s time to move on, Benjamin Mee. Live your new life.
And live it he does. But will the zoo ever pass the inspection? Will anybody ever come? And what about all those relationships with his son and the love interest and such – how will those turn out? I guess you’ll just have to see for yourself how all the humans do. But don’t worry; they don’t detract too much from the cats.
So the verdict is………….
Go see it! There’s plenty of cats to go around!!
Stay tuned for more of my reviews coming soon!!