When we saw previews for We Bought a Zoo last year, I knew it was going to be one of those films my daughter would love. It’s about kids who live at a zoo; what kid wouldn’t love it? But what I didn’t expect was that I would also love it myself.
The storyline is about a risk-taking journalist who frequently goes on adventures, not worrying about the cost. His life turns upside down when his wife dies of a long-term illness, and he’s suddenly finding himself with a morbid teen son who keeps getting in trouble at school and a cute seven-year-old daughter who seems to have it more together than he does himself. So what’s an adventuresome dad to do? Buy a zoo, of course.I know, it’s a weird premise, but it’s based on a true story, and it’s just strange enough to be realistic. The family drama—and Matt Damon as a father—are truly believable for me here. The teen/parent relationship is portrayed so well that I did find myself tearing up (which was, of course, the filmmakers’ intention, I am sure), and the little girl added the sweetness factor needed against the storm of that relationship. The animals, of course, were also fun, as were the ragtag group of animal handlers.
There’s even a homeschooled girl in the movie, which was nice since it’s not like my daughter has a bunch of girls in the media to look up to, let alone homeschooled ones! This character was adorably played by Elle Fanning, and I would say her verve and personality were just spectacular; her slight awkwardness, however, was misplaced, since, you know, homeschoolers aren’t awkward in a general sense (though teenagers are, also generally speaking!). So it still worked out. Love interests in the movie were so lightly handled that they didn’t overpower it (or ruin the memory of the mother, which was also handled beautifully), something that I was also pleasantly surprised by.
From moving scenes with an aging tiger to the family story itself, the movie really did not disappoint. I was expecting to pop in this rental and yawn, fighting closing eyes as my daughter watched it; on the contrary, I was left smiling, and yes, openly weeping a couple of times. It was also pretty darn funny, which my husband enjoyed. There are a couple of swear words, though, so keep that in mind if you don’t like that kind of language in your entertainment.