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Movie review: We Bought a Zoo

Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson find love and friendship in the heart-warming Cameron Crowe comedy We Bought a Zoo.

We Bought a Zoo

Imagine Matt Damon is a widower who’s in desperate need of a wife? (Sorry, Luciana  — just stay with us for a moment… we’re talking about in the new movie We Bought a Zoo — let a sista dream.)

He’s got more than a few prospects living as a big time adventure reporter in Los Angeles, but what he really needs is to get away and focus on his kids after the painful passing of his lovely wife. Aw! We heart him even more, now.

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So, after much debate, Damon, who plays real life journalist Benjamin Mee, decides that if he moves into a broken down farm house in the country (nine miles from the nearest Target — gasp!), everything will be alright.

Too bad he never imagined his dream of starting over would come with the responsibilities of a neglected zoo. Yep, an actual zoo, with actual animals, we’re talking lions, tigers and bears. Well, one of each, at least.

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We Bought a Zoo

Enter the over-worked, always sexy zookeeper Scarlett Johansson, of Lost in Translation and Vicky Cristina Barcelona fame. She’s practical and down-to-earth, if only Benjamin would let her in. Director Cameron Crowe, who we love for bringing us movies like Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky, could have overplayed the romance between Johansson and Damon, but instead he goes for the slow burn.

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The sexual tension mounts with every pitfall of the zoo, but the audience is never quite sure if these two will get together. But, don’t get too discouraged (and don’t worry, there will be no spoilers, here), this is Hollywood, so you won’t leave disappointed. The romance is more realistic rather than hopelessly romantic like in Crowe’s other films, Say Anything and Singles, for example.

That said, this is where We Bought a Zoo picks up, when Benjamin and his two kids — played by soon-to-be-teen-heartthrob (watch out for this one, ladies!) Colin Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who does an adorable job at… being adorable — take on the task of reconstructing this zoo in hopes of securing a new life for themselves. This is when Ford’s character also meets his own love interest, played by Elle Fanning.

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We Bought a Zoo

To round out the rest of the cast, Thomas Haden Church brings his Sideways wit and a lot of Easy A playfulness to Benjamin’s charming, yet a little too blunt, brother.

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The animals are cute, yet the themes aren’t too sugary sweet. While Benjamin deals with grieving the death of his wife, his son deals with becoming a man and the zoo staff deals with the fact that they might have to move on soon.

Based on the memoir by real life journalist Benjamin Mee about the journey he took when his family bought Dartmoor Wildlife Park in 2006, the film takes liberties with its adaptation. For starters, the real-life zoo is located in Dartmoor, England, rather than southern California.

But, if you like emotional films about building strong relationships with new friends like Dolphin Tale, The Help or Moneyball, you’ll like this. With a less laughs than other humans-dealing-with-animals comedies like Mr. Popper’s Penguins and a bit less romance than Jerry Maguire, We Bought a Zoo makes for a touching film about love, family and friendship. And, it has a fabulous sound track, to boot. But hey, it’s Cameron Crowe. The former editor of Rolling Stone still lives by the rules of rock-n-roll. Love hard, play hard and never give up, much like the characters in his films.

Bottom line: If you like quirky comedies with a whole lot of heart, Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson bring love and laughter in We Bought a Zoo.

Photo credits: Twentieth Century Fox

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