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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

We Bought a Zoo | Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Hayden Church | Review

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  2_Chicks_Small Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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We Bought a Zoo | Matt Damon | Scarlett Johansson | Thomas Hayden Church | Review

The four-legged animals are wonderful; it’s the ones that walk on two that make this feel-good fairytale by Cameron Crowe anemic and schmaltzy.

Widower and former world-trotting investigative journalist Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) relocates his children from the town that painfully reminds him of his late wife to a country house that happens to be on the grounds of a zoo.  The plot glosses over the logistics and legalities of an ordinary citizen taking on such a monumental endeavor, as would be the case in the care and feeding of exotic animals without a shred of experience.  Mee’s brother Duncan (Thomas Hayden Church) tries to talk sense into him, but there’s a dream brewing and it must be followed.

Never fear, a suitably quirky group of caretakers seems to come with the property, eager to tell Benjamin what expensive repairs and supplies are needed.  Head Zookeeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) is a no-nonsense twenty-something dedicated to the animals.  Another worker Robin (Patrick Fugit, the kid from Crowe’s Almost Famous) is accompanied by a pet monkey perched on his shoulder that’s not above slapping him in the head at intervals.  Big brawny Peter MacCready (Angus Macfadyen) wears a kilt.  Every zoo needs a kilt-wearin’ Scotsman, don’t ya know.

A villain in the form of county inspector Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins) keeps the group busy renovating the zoo until it’s up to code and ready to open again – a feat no one believes can happen.  Does it happen?  Is there a way too cute daughter (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) with way too may close-ups?  Is there a sullen teenage son (Colin Ford) in conflict with his dad?  And where there’s a sullen teen boy, is there a pretty teen girl (Elle Fanning) trying to get his attention?

Does everyone pull off a heartwarming miracle?

Hey, no spoilers here, just a comment that this could have been done as a Hallmark Special, that’s all.  There’s an audience for this type of feel-good fluff and it’s even based on a true story.  I wonder if the actual people it’s based on recognize themselves in it by more than just their names.

There’s plenty of heart and sincerity displayed by Matt Damon, although Scarlett Johansson seems out of place to the point that even she knows it.  Thomas Hayden Church has little to do but provide the naysayer’s point of view.

Two standout scenes involve an old tiger in his last days, and a group of family pictures that come to life, filling a room with living memories.  If the film had sustained that type of momentum, it would have been an entirely different story, indeed.

Instead, director Cameron Crowe (Say Anything, Almost Famous) offers up a calculated, cutesy-but-not-clever and somewhat formulaic fable that seems to rest on the fact that it “really” happened as a license to broaden the comedy, sugar-coat the already-sweet and pound the heartwarming message home with a sledgehammer.  Crowe has never dissolved into simple syrup before and hopefully this foray into contrived sentimentality will be his last.

See it for the animals if you must, but forgive the humans.  They are the ones that (seem to) know not what they do.

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