Monday, May 14, 2012

We Bought a Zoo

You know something’s wrong with Hollywood awards ceremonies when movies like We Bought a Zoo go unnoticed: movies about fractured families recovering from tragedy, movies about celebrating the present without forgetting the past, movies about taking big risks in pursuit of a better life.  We Bought a Zoo is truly the best family-centered drama to come along in quite some time.

Benjamin Mee (whose memoir is the inspiration for the movie) is the recently widowed father of two children: a 7-year old girl and 14-year old boy.  The passing of Benjamin’s wife has stricken the family with grief, but the teen, Dylan, is perhaps the most affected, as his dark and gory artwork demonstrates.  In a later dialogue, he bluntly expresses his newfound cynicism for life: “There is no sun at the end of the road that I’m aware of.”  This is, of course, a typical young man’s disposition, but the loss of his mother only amplifies Dylan’s agony.  Benjamin, also struggling with his wife’s death, aspires to start life anew and find a new home.  Eventually, he buys a private zoo.  This only adds financial troubles to his already heavy bag of burdens, which includes restoring the relationship he once had with his son and adjusting to a future without his sorely beloved wife.  Fortunately, his new neighbors - especially the hard-working zookeeper - are more than willing to assist his family through their emotional and physical hardships… 

The rest of this review will be fairly short, as I really can’t get a handle on any negative reactions I had to this movie.  We Bought a Zoo presents believable characters who act realistically given their circumstances.  Although they all are imperfect and often stumble, we still sympathize with them.  The animals may be cute, but the zoo’s higher inhabitants ultimately endear us the most, which corresponds with the movie’s message that great, human friendships are the best gift one can receive (or reject, as Ben’s son learns later).  The movie is exceptionally well acted by its stars (Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, and the three kids), and the screenwriter deserves credit for writing a moving and meaningful story. 

With that said, the movie does have a few small flaws.  Firstly, the coarse language in the movie is excessive and unnecessary for what was marketed as a family film.  This movie has mediocre reviews on Amazon precisely because a bunch of mommies took their kiddies to this expecting a clean, family-friendly, animal-indulgent happy-go-lucky romp.*  We Bought a Zoo is not that kind of movie, due to its PG-13 (albeit relatively infrequent) language and its subject matter, which won’t likely appeal much to anybody younger than 12.  I wasn’t bothered by the swearing until the end, when the little girl, Rosie, repeats a word she should not have heard.  No matter the rating of the movie, it was an inappropriate line for such a young actress to recite.  There is also a romantic subplot involving the son and a girl who lives by the zoo.  It goes a little too far to be plausible… then again, I can’t speak as my 14-year-old experience is hardly representative of everybody’s else’s, especially since I never lost my mother or moved away from urban un-civilization at that age.  Additionally, the movie commonly uses music to manipulate the viewer’s emotions in pivotal scenes, although the same could be said for most other family dramas.  Besides, the soundtrack isn’t bad. 

We Bought a Zoo is a fine movie that's best viewed with the company of a tissue box, as it will probably make you cry.  I did not, but then I haven’t cried at a movie since… 

Grade: A-

* It’s unfortunate how indicative these reactions are of our society’s stupidity.  Parents nowadays are so dumb that they’ll take their children to just whatever animated movie is released, even if it’s New Age and/or socialist dogma like Happy Feet, Astro Boy, Wall-e, Cars 2, and recently The Lorax.  Heck, the picture doesn’t even need to be animated; so long as the studio markets it to families, na├»ve adults will drag their even more morally ignorant children into the theater.  Parents will do so because they’re either too lazy or too foolish to do their own research and find what the movie contains.  This alone would be bad enough if such individuals did not seek to play the blame game.  Totally shirking personal responsibility, they take to the internet to mope and whine about how they were tricked into showing their children a movie improper for their eyes and ears.  What happened to being accountable for your own errors?  Karl Marx happened.  Parents were also outraged after taking their kids to Rango, which was a superb but rather mature animated movie.  If they had only looked at the content rating for Rango (and possibly Johnny Depp’s filmography), they could have deduced that the western was not suitable for their younglings.  But they did not, and someone else has to be labeled guilty for their poor thinking.  They usually target the "1%" who made the movie.

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