Review of We Bought a Zoo

Review of We Bought a Zoo directed by Cameron Crowe, written by Cameron Crowe and Aline Brosh McKenna
Rating **** 1/2

I didn’t have high expectations going into this film. But I was more than pleasantly surprised. This film is a gem, equally as good as Jerry Magurie. The film is based on the book by the same name. I have not read the book, so I could not compare the two. It was only after going through the ancillary material on the disk that I discovered that the film strayed from the truth. Otherwise I would have given it a solid five star rating.

I loved everything about this film. The acting, the script, the cinematography, and the score. Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson were perfect. But little Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who plays Rosie Mee, steels every scene she’s in. She’s every bit as cute as the little boy was in Jerry Maquire.

This is a character driven story. The only real conflict is whether or not they can get the zoo to pass inspection so they can open. It’s the character interactions and the interactions with the animals that make this work. Just like Marley and Me, another book to film adaptation I liked.

This isn’t a movie that fits into a specific category such as drama or comedy. And that’s what I like about it. It has all of those elements. I also liked the way the filmmakers decided to make Benjamin’s wife, who had died, a character in the story. She only appears briefly, but her spirit is in the background throughout. I also liked the fact that they didn’t create some phony relationship between Benjamin and Scarlett Johansson’s character. It would have been so easy for them to work that angle. I mean it’s Scarlett Johansson, who even with no hair and makeup and combat boots, looks stunning. Instead they just flirt with the idea and allow Matt Damon’s character to still grieve for his wife.

You know a score is good when you don’t notice it until later. I was surprised to learn that this was Cameron Crowe’s first film that had a score that wasn’t comprised of songs. But if you were to take away the score by Jonsi, the film wouldn’t work nearly as well. It’s as much a part of the film as the scores to films such as Risky Business or Gladiator were to those films.

I was also pleasantly surprised at the amount of extras on the disc. Too many rental DVDs have had the extra content stripped away in an attempt to drive more sales. But I appreciate it when studios include the extra material on the rentals as well. I enjoyed the movie so much I wanted to watch everything from the deleted scenes, to the making of, to interviews with the real Benjamin Mee and his real son and daughter.

The one disappointment, and another contributor for me taking off a half star, was the decision by Cameron Crowe to include J.B. Smoove on the audio commentary. I really wanted to hear what Cameron and the editor had to say about how the movie came to be. But Cameron thought it would be a good idea to include JB, a comedian. Instead, J.B. added absolutely nothing, monopolized the commentary, and went off on so many tangents that had nothing to do with the film, that they would have been better off adding the caterer to the audio commentary. Learning about what they ate for lunch would have been more entertaining.

The only other minor complaint was the way the filmmakers felt a need to stray from the truth. Scarlett Johansson’s character doesn’t exist. And they unnecessarily added other characters and situations that were complete fabrications. I’m guessing that was Cameron Crowe wanting to put his stamp on things, but I wonder what the film would have looked like it if it were shot from the original script?

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