WE BOUGHT A ZOO
MOVIE: *** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5)
BY KEVIN CARR
Several months ago, I questioned the move of Fox dropping “We Bought a Zoo” into theaters on Christmas day. That works for some family-friendly animal films like “Marley and Me,” but this past year seemed so crowded during this time of year. Plus, Christmas fell on a Sunday, which made for a bizarre opening day. In the end, “We Bought a Zoo” did fine, but it did struggle to find a wide audience.
Now, it’s available on DVD and Blu-ray in the spring, a much more calm and settled time. And that helps because despite it including several elements I don’t particularly like in movies (such as director Cameron Crowe and star Scarlett Johannsen), it’s not a bad little movie.
“We Bought a Zoo” is a Hollywood version of a true story about a family that buys a failing zoo with the hopes of bringing it back to its former glory. There’s quite a difference from the movie and the actual story, including shifting the location from Britain to American and adding the complexity of a widowed father since the real people bought the zoo before the wife died. Still, the essence of the inspirational story is still the same.
The film is a button-pusher, but it is so in the nicest way possible. Matt Damon is fiercely likeable as the grieving father who is desperately trying to reconnect with his children. Scarlett Johannsen has relatively little screen time, which is good considering her character can get irritating and make little sense outside of the context of the determined zookeeper.
“We Bought a Zoo” is a light family drama, so it does suffer at times from the trappings of this genre. The young daughter’s cuteness is overplayed, and the surly teenage boy falls too much into his own stereotype. Still, if you’re into movies like this, those will be given and support the film better than hinder it.
Crowe, who tends to be all over the map with the subject matter he chooses for his films, manages to balance things out better than previous failures like “Elizabethtown,” and the film has the typical heart he injects into his movies. It’s not a great film, but it’ll do for a viewing with the kids (thought beware of a pretty significant Santa spoiler in the middle).
Along with a DVD included in the case, there’s quite a few special features on “We Bought a Zoo.” Standard features include an audio commentary with director Cameron Crowe, actor JB Smoove and editor Mark Livolsi, as well as a gag reel and some deleted and extended scenes. There are several featurettes, including “We Shot a Zoo” as a behind-the-scenes video, “Their Happy Is Too Loud,” “The Real Mee” about the characters behind the story, “It’s a Zoo: An Insider’s Look at We Bought a Zoo” and a spotlight on the soundtrack.