2011 had a rather interesting year for the movies that came out during Christmas. While there are usually plenty of light-hearted Christmas movies every year, this year featured a variety of more mature movies like “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “War Horse.” Unfortunately, there weren’t many good films for kids to see with the exception of one movie: “We Bought a Zoo.” Directed by Oscar-winner Cameron Crowe after a six-year hiatus, “We Bought a Zoo” does make for entertainment that will please kids and some parents, but ultimately fails to come up with anything new to please moviegoers looking for deeper material.
The film focuses on the true story of Benjamin Mee, a struggling father of two kids whose wife recently died. Deciding to start a new life with his children, he ends up moving them to a struggling zoo, where Benjamin works with the zookeepers to try and turn things around. If you’ve seen the trailers for “We Bought a Zoo,” you’ll notice that is treads on very familiar territory when it comes to characters and plot points. From the romances to the financial situation of the zoo that is miraculously solved, this film is extremely predictable from beginning to end.
I don’t mean to be harsh on a movie that is targeted for kids and is meant to be a feel-good movie, but the movie has very little creativity or anything interesting to offer. This is a rather by-the-numbers film that borrows every plot point and every bittersweet/uplifting moment that is in every drama nowadays. There is nothing original here.
Another glaring issue with the movie is how strangely uneven it is at times. There are some characters that are very out-of-place in this movie, particularly a goofy realtor that somehow makes Eddie Murphy look subtle in comparison.
The score of the movie, while admittedly the most creative aspect of this film, is rather over-the-top at times. It sounds less like music from a drama and more like something from “The Lion King.” There are also a few moments where Benjamin imagines seeing his wife that seem like they were taken out of a fantasy film, and the way the movie presents it is even more jarring than the music in the background. For a simple film about a father raising his children in a zoo, issues like these stand out in a bad way.
While the storytelling is flawed, the performances in the movie are fairly good. Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson both give good leading performances and share a decent amount of chemistry. Thomas Haden Church is enjoyable with the screen time he has, and obviously Benjamin’s daughter is going to get a lot of “awww’s” and laughs from people.
There is some decent execution here, but overall the film is just forgettable. It borrows many elements from other dramas that were done better in those films, and you’ll likely leave the theater with a “been there, done that” feeling. The beating heart in other films like this just isn’t here, and though this film does make for harmless entertainment for kids, there won’t be much worth remembering when the adventure is over.
Rating: 5/10 (Very Average)