This film, We Bought a Zoo, is based on a true story and it is a born winner! It's full of all the elements that we want to see in a movie.
There is comedy, some adventure, drama relating to family and relationships, and romance (two in fact) that brings us only to the edge of fulfillment but with the promise of long lasting commitment. The acting is flawless by all the characters and absolutely captivating by 7-year old Maggie Elizabeth Jones.
Matt Damon plays Benjamin (Ben) Mee, the father of two children and recently widowed. His children are 14-year old Dylan (Colin Ford) and 7-year old Rosie (Ms Jones). Benjamin is working as hard as he can to keep his life in order after the loss of his beloved wife, Katherine. Rosie is manageable for Ben, but Dylan is rebellious and expelled from school after several disruptive incidents. Ben is a journalist who travels the world, reporting on events of unrest and turmoil. He has a falling out with his publisher and quits.
Ben decides to look for a new home. He's looking for a new house with good schools and some acreage. He is bowled over by a large older home on 18 acres, nine miles from town. He loves the place and so does Rosie. Dylan is altogether unhappy about moving away from his familiar home and his friends. The realtor tries to dissuade Ben from choosing this house because it is 'complicated' - it has a zoo as part of the property. Ben's older brother, Duncan (Thomas Haden Church), is a CPA and tells Ben that he's crazy to get involved in this enterprise and urges him to reconsider.
Ben decides to go ahead and thinks it might be a new exciting adventure for him. Rosie is enchanted from the start and views the zoo as if her vast array of stuffed animals has come to life.
The zoo is quite extensive and there is a staff to manage the facility and the animals. It's a struggling business in need of extensive repairs and enhancements to pass inspection. That's a requirement to allow them to open the park to the public. John Michael Higgins is the nitpicking inspector who brings the discouraging news to Ben and the team.
The zookeeper in charge of the animals is Kelly Foster played by Scarlett Johansson. There is an attraction between Ben and Kelly, but Ben cannot get past his grief to consider pursuing the relationship. They remain close and Kelly is invaluable as an expert in the managing and care of all the wild life under her watch.
Dylan remains angry and uncooperative. He is befriended by a young teenage girl, Lily (Elle Fanning), who is a ward of Kelly. She quickly develops a crush on Dylan and it takes a while, but she does eventually soften his attitude. We really want Ben to succeed, but he finds that the restoration is costing more than he can afford. That's the basic conflict in We Bought a Zoo. Can he get it done? The suspense is maintained up to and a bit beyond the scheduled opening of the park. On opening day the work is complete, the ribbon is cut, but where are the patrons?
Matt Damon is excellent as the grieving widower who struggles with his new life and inability to redirect his personal needs. Scarlett Johansson has never been better as an actress in any previous role. A major consideration is that this portrayal does not at all depend on her beauty or sexiness. She is still very pretty, but is attired and looks and behaves like an animal caretaker. And Maggie Jones as little Rosie is magical. You'll laugh a lot and shed some tears with We Bought a Zoo and you'll feel good from seeing it.
We Bought a Zoo is at Cottonwood Cinema.