Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo is by far the most egregious waste of time you can spend this holiday season, in a movie theater, that is. It’s overly long, incredibly boring, laughably acted, and just all around inexpertly staged. It’s didactic to the point of nausea; possibly suitable for grandma, but useless to most anyone who gets a basic enjoyment out of movies.
The film tells the (kind of) true story of Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) who after losing his wife to cancer, quits his job (look, a Jerry Maguire moment!), and moves his playful young daughter and rebellious teenage son away from their quaint little town to a farmhouse far out in the country. When Benjamin purchases his new home, you see, he inherits a medium-sized zoo, its animals, its few employees, and so on.
Benjamin thinks the idea of buying a zoo sounds like a fresh start, so he spends his life savings getting the zoo ready for its seasonal grand opening. This includes countless, endless, laborious, painstakingly long scenes of Benjamin and Co. getting into Capra-esque hiccups, such as letting hundreds of snakes out of their box, talking a lion (or was it a tiger?... hell if I care to remember) off of a rock, arguing with teenage angst, dodging flirts from the head zoo worker, and, worst among them, trying to get the zoo approved and licensed by a cartoon caricature of a “villain” (played with shameful indifference by John Michael Higgins, an often humorous character actor).
Look, the holidays are all about coming together and, if not only for a moment, forgetting the baggage and past regrets and simply enjoying time with your family. I get that. And, as mentioned, if you’re looking for a cinematic outing that the whole family can partake in, then I’m sure We Bought a Zoo will do just fine. But seriously, what the hell kind of recommendation is that? If I were a major film critic, my quote for submission to be tagged on this film’s movie poster may be something like: “The Least Offensive Film of the Holiday Season!”
In short, We Bought a Zoo’s heart is in the right place, but so was the heart of Crowe’s last film, the equally disastrous Elizabethtown.
I saw We Bought a Zoo when it screened for one night, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The sold out theater was packed with families eager to enjoy a film together; basically, the film’s target audience. So when the scene in which Damon engages in an extended argument with his onscreen son occured, it doesn’t speak very favorably of the film to note that the majority of those in attendance were laughing audibly. What was happening on screen was not meant to be funny, but god was it ever. D