17 March 2015

We Bought a Zoo (starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Colin Ford, and Maggie Elizabeth Jones)

We picked this film up, inexpensively, at a supermarket in the UK on a recent visit. We had not really heard of it, but it looked as if it could be rather different from others we’ve seen recently.

The story is about Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon), who has been recently widowed. He has a moody teenage son, Dylan (Colin Ford) who keeps getting into trouble at school, and a seven-year-old daughter, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) who is trying to take on some responsibility for the house already. I could feel for Benjamin’s growing frustration, trying to raise his children while still grieving himself. So it was no surprise when he decided to look for a new house, in a completely different area, to start afresh.

There are some amusing scenes as Benjamin and the delightful Rosie are taken around some entirely unsuitable houses by an enthusiastic agent who’s new to the job. Eventually they discover what seems like the perfect property: a bit run-down, but with several acres of land, and a wonderful view. There’s just one slight problem: it comes with a zoo.

Determined to make it work, Benjamin puts money into better enclosures and renovating the zoo, only to find that it’s considerably more expensive than he imagined, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll pass the stringent inspection necessary to re-open…

This film, set in the US, is based on a true story about a real zoo in the UK, although many of the details have been changed. It makes for a very interesting couple of hours, and has a good balance of themes: the obvious one of renovating the zoo runs alongside Benjamin’s often stormy relationship with Dylan, who reminds him all too often of his late (and much-loved) wife. There are also a couple of low-key romance elements, nicely done in an entirely family-friendly way. There’s some humour, mixed with some mild suspense and some quite moving scenes too.

The rating is PG, which I think is probably right; there’s some bad language, although nothing that would warrant a 12 or 15 rating; however a strong word for ‘dung’ is used repeatedly, and there are other slang phrases that some parents might prefer their little ones not to hear. The suspense is mostly mild, but Dylan does produce some quite intense and potentially frightening pictures as he works through his anger. Parents should check before showing this to sensitive children.

We enjoyed this film very much, and would recommend it highly. I was particularly taken with little Maggie Elizabeth Jones' delightful and entirely believable performance as young Rosie, and will be looking out for other films in which she features.

There's just one extra: a documentary about the production, showing how some of the animals were trained (entirely humanely and lovingly). It was very interesting.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

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