CliqueClack Flicks

We Bought a Zoo – A treacly, saccharine manipulative piece of schlock

We Bought a Zoo - Theater Review
Release Date: 12/23/2011 - MPAA Rating: PG
Clacker Rating: 2 Clacks

Director Cameron Crowe’s based-on-a-true-story movie 'We Bought a Zoo' is ridiculously sentimental and somehow not realistic at all.


So where do I start on this one … ? First of all, I can understand why a lot of people will probably find themselves liking this movie, because it’s seriously manipulative. It uses every cliché and trick in the book to make you feel something and hopefully burst into tears. But it’s actually a pretty terrible movie. We Bought a Zoo comes from unsteady director Cameron Crowe (the great Almost Famous, the uneven and overlong Jerry Maguire, and the wretched Elizabethtown) and is BASED ON A TRUE STORY about a real life family in the UK that buys a zoo in Devonshire. In the real world, former columnist Benjamin Mee who, together with his wife, brother, mother, and children Milo and Ella, bought and maintained a rundown zoo before the untimely death of his wife Katherine to glioblastoma. This led to a reasonably successful book that led to the film.In the movie world, it’s a bit different. First of all, it’s in the US, because British accents are confusing.  Benjamin, played by Matt Damon (The Adjustment Bureau, Ocean’s Twelve) moves to the zoo because his son gets expelled after having understandable difficulty from his mom dying in a plot-related death (never explained). Instead of the clearly incomprehensible names of Milo and Ella, his two children are 13-year-old Dylan (Colin Ford) and 7-year-old Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). Makes perfect sense. When Benjamin buys a country house against the sage advice of irascible and craggy older brother Duncan, played by Thomas Haden Church (Easy A, Spider-Man 3), because of the sunshine in his daughter’s eyes, he discovers that a zoo is part of deal. Which includes a cast of nutty workers, lead by head zookeeper Kelly, played by Scarlett Johansson (Iron Man 2, Lost in Translation), her underage cousin Lily, played by Elle Fanning (Super 8), and a few comic relief characters: annoying Rhonda (Carla Gallo), pensive Robin (Patrick Fugit), and wait-aren’t-British-stereotypes-offensive-too Peter (Angus Macfadyen).

But uh oh… it’s February, and the EVIL GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR, played by John Michael Higgins is planning to … make sure an unsafe zoo isn’t opened and that the animals aren’t mistreated? He’s a pretty awful villain, although Higgins does his best to be amusing with a thankless and caricatured role (if he had a mustache, he’d be twirling it). But if they want to meet their summer opening time, they’ll need more money than they have, random contrivances to move the plot along, problems otherwise easily solved due to lack of communication, and half-baked romantic arcs. Luckily, you’re in luck! All of that is in the movie! Oh, and don’t forget about random cameos that don’t go anywhere (J.B. Smoove).

So the writing is the downfall of this movie. With a few scattered moments of humor, it’s mostly filled with clunky expository dialogue, over-the-top unrealistic arguments, and schmaltzy dreck no human would ever say. The acting, on the other hand, is pretty decent — for the most part. The little girl, whether due to terrible writing, incompetent direction, or perhaps lack of skill, is so overly precociously adorable you may start wincing — everything she says seems incredibly carefully measured and coached. “You’re doing pretty darn okay, Daddy!” or “My mommy is dead!” (this to complete strangers). Scarlett Johansson isn’t so great when she’s given stupid things to say, but I did find her unspoken moments far more affecting. Elle Fanning is a charismatic joy, easily the brightest star of this movie, with her raw smiles and tears seeming more real than anything else. And Matt Damon clearly loves the real life story and believes in it enough that he elevates the stupid nonsense shoved into his mouth. If he got award attention for this role, I wouldn’t feel it was misguided

Best screenplay, though? Not a chance.



Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

Categories: News, Reviews, Theater Releases

4 Responses to “We Bought a Zoo – A treacly, saccharine manipulative piece of schlock”

December 23, 2011 at 4:07 PM

I had a serious hate for “real life stories” that don’t even try to get the facts right. If you can’t be bothered to even have the characters have the same names of the real life people (let alone have the wife be in the picture) then why are you even making the movie?

December 27, 2011 at 9:04 AM

I feel like “a treacly, saccharine manipulative piece of schlock” could be used to describe just about every Crowe movie. I think the only one of his I truly like is Vanilla Sky, which was essentially a shot for shot remake of a foreign film.

December 28, 2011 at 8:25 AM

. . . . .

<——- not having a problem with this film in the least

December 29, 2011 at 1:36 AM

That’s okay, I’m pretty sure we never agree on anything.

Powered By OneLink