We Bought a Zoo does not fall under the conventional ‘inspirational’ genre, nor would I put it under the category of ‘family drama’ even though it involves a family. It does not have any intense moment of characters struggling or falling into the depths of despair. However, it has subtle elements of both of these genres with a wonderful background of an abandoned and unkempt zoo that might be the last straw in saving the family from falling apart. Being an animal lover, this movie was a treat for me. Starring the ever-so-charming Matt Damon as Benjamin, a recently widowed man with two wonderful kids, a 14-year-old son, Dylan, entering the rebellious-teen phase, and a delightful 7-year-old daughter, Rosie, who steals the thunder in every scene she is in. The film also stars Scarlett Johannson and a couple of other actors as the caretakers of the zoo.
Benjamin sees both his children terribly missing their mother and being unable to cope with the tragedy, while he himself struggles to find strength to live each new day. After deciding to move to a new place to escape the memories of his wife in their old house, he comes across a huge house at the outskirts of the city. But it comes with a catch. The owner of the house also has to take care of the zoo that is close by. Benjamin believes it to be a wonderful distraction for himself and his kids to get through their grief, find their way back into their old lives and move on. Eventually the movie is about how they overcome various challenges in restoring the zoo to its past glory and re-opening it for the visitors, and also getting closer together as a family.
The strength of the movie is its many subtle moments between the father-son and the father-daughter duos, which focus on the challenge of a single-father-and-child relation and how Benjamin carves his path in understanding the needs of his children. In one of the best scenes from the movie, which Matt Damon uplifts with his acting prowess, Benjamin describes how he met his wife and he ends up saying, “You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you something great will come of it.” This quote has always inspired me and given me hope and strength when I am scared of trying new things.
Another highlight of the movie is the tussle between Benjamin and his son Dylan, who feels completely misunderstood and abandoned after the death of his mother and is unable to trust his father to take care of both the children. These delicate moments add strength and depth to the characters’ state of mind in the movie. The film traces how things eventually change for the better as new characters enter and they work together for the zoo.
The movie displays the signature direction style of Cameron Crowe, whose past work boasts of Jerry Maguire, Say Anything and more, all iconic in bringing a heartwarming tale together on screen through lively, thoughtful and well-written characters. I go back to this movie at least once a year, when I feel low or disheartened. The animals are a huge bonus and the wonderfully cute Rosie never fails to add a smile to a droopy face. Highly recommended for a hopeful and delightful viewing on a rainy day!
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.