Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Produced by: Julie Yorn, Cameron Crowe, Marc Gordon
Based on: We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee
Starring: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Patrick Fugit, Elle Fanning, John Michael Higgins
Music by: Jonsi
Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto
Editing by: Mark Livolsi
Distributed by: Twentieth Century Fox
Release date(s): December 23, 2011 Running time: 124 minutes
Country: United States Language: English
Budget: $50 million Box office: $120,081,841
We Bought a Zoo is a 2011 Comedy-drama/family film based on the 2008 memoir of the same name by Benjamin Mee. The film is directed by Cameron Crowe, and stars Matt Damon as the lead character. It tells the story of Mee and his family who just moved into a dilapidated zoo and took on the challenge of preparing the zoo for its reopening to the public.
We Bought a Zoo was released in the U.S. box office on December 23, 2011. The film received mostly positive reception from film critics, and grossed a total of $120 million.
Recently widowed Benjamin (Ben) Mee (Matt Damon), still grieving his loss and dealing with school behavior issues with his 14-year-old son, Dylan (Colin Ford), decides to get a fresh start by buying a new house. After touring many houses with his daughter, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and his realtor and finding none to his liking, his daughter finds a paper with what seems like the perfect house he is wanting. They drive up on a beautiful old large house and as Ben inspects the property and tells his realtor it's the perfect home, the realtor tries to explain that the situation is "complicated", when they hear a lion roar outside. The realtor explains that the house comes with a zoo in the back and if they want the house, they have to buy the zoo, which closed to the public several yearsbefore. Although reluctant to take on a zoo and all of its animals, he decides to give it a try, when he sees how happy his daughter, Rosie, is playing with the peacocks. His son, Dylan, however hates the idea of moving away from his friends, and retreats into his artwork (drawings and paintings which have grown more macabre since the death of his mother). Ben's brother tries to dissuade Ben from purchasing the property, but Ben buys it anyway. The zoo staff, led by head keeper, Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), help Benjamin to start renovating the zoo with the intent to reopen the zoo to the public. When Kelly confronts Ben about why he would buy a zoo, knowing nothing about how to, Ben thinks about it and responds, "Why not?" Meanwhile, Dylan befriends a young homeschooled girl named Lily (Elle Fanning) who works at the zoo, and has a huge crush on him, to which he is completely oblivious.
A strict USDA inspector, Walt Ferris (John Michael Higgins), shows up for a surprise inspection and makes a large list of repairs that would cost around $100,000 to do. Benjamin runs into financial trouble with all the expenses of running the zoo and does not have the money needed for the repairs. The zoo worker that handles the accounting gossips to the other workers that Ben is out of money and that he will probably sell the zoo, to which the workers' morale sinks, fearing the property will be sold to a buyer that will close the zoo. When Lily tells him that she heard his family might be leaving, Dylan is overjoyed, which hurts her feelings. Benjamin discovers that his late wife had left him an investment account with instructions to use the money wisely while listening to his heart. Ben's brother advises him to walk away and start over with the money, but Ben decides to use the money to repair the zoo. While this lifts the zoo workers' morale, Dylan is unhappy about having to stay. He confronts his father, and a heated argument ensues. They reconcile the next morning, and Dylan admits he misses Lily. Benjamin gives his son advice on reconciling with her by using his favorite principle, that you only need 20 seconds of courage to achieve great things. Ben realizes that instead of trying to start over by forgetting his wife that she will always be a part of him as he looks through old pictures of their family and remembers them playing as if they were right in front of him.
Prior to the zoo's grand opening, the facility passes a very stringent inspection from the USDA inspector, who begrudgingly wishes them good luck. Dylan, following his father's advice, confesses to Lily that he loves her and she forgives him. Then, Lily and Dylan go into a long and moving hug. The day before opening, the worst rainstorm in over 100 years threatens to wash out the zoo's grand opening, and although the weather clears in time, they are disappointed the next morning when no visitors arrive. They soon discover that a fallen tree has blocked the access road. Scrambling over the tree, Ben discovers a huge crowd of waiting visitors, who climb over the tree with the zoo staff's help, and pour into the zoo. So many people come to visit that they run out of tickets and Ben and Kelly enter a shed to look for them and end up face to face. Kelly admits to Benjamin that she has a crush on him but, "can't get a handle on it." She kisses him, telling him maybe they can do that again on the New Year's eve. Benjamin replies by kissing her and telling her that he is looking forward to New Year's Eve.
At the end, Benjamin takes his children to where he met their mother, explaining that it was the point where they became a "possibility". He takes them through that day's encounter, where Ben worked up the nerve to talk to his future wife with "20 seconds of courage," and walks up to the table she was at, and visualizes her actually sitting there, then asks her why such an amazing woman would talk to someone like him. His wife responds, "Why not?", echoing the reason why Benjamin bought the zoo in the first place.
· Matt Damon as Benjamin "Ben" Mee, the father of Dylan and Rosie Mee and the owner of the zoo, who is trying to restart his life after his wife dies.
· Scarlett Johansson as 28-year old Kelly Foster, the lead zookeeper and long-time employee at Rosemoor Animal Park.
· Thomas Haden Church as Duncan Mee, the accountant older brother of Benjamin Mee.
· Colin Ford as Dylan Mee, the 14-year old son of Benjamin Mee, who is initially drawn to Lily and eventually develops feelings for her.
· Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Rosie Mee, the 7-year old daughter of Benjamin Mee, who is very curious about all of the animals in the zoo and thinks living at a zoo is a grand adventure.
· Angus Macfadyen as Peter MacCready, the carpenter of the zoo who had made many innovative enclosures for the zoo, and he claims that his ideas were "stolen" by Walter Ferris. Because of this, he has a huge and violent grudge against Walter.
· Elle Fanning as Lily Miska, the 13-year old home-schooled cousin of Kelly and worker at the zoo's restaurant who lives within the zoo. Although she is too young to legally work, she is paid "under the table" out of her cousin's salary. She likes Dylan (who is unaware) at first, but later gives up after Dylan doesn't listen to her and unintentionally hurts her feelings. After Dylan apologizes and tells her his feelings for her, she forgives him and they resume their friendship.
· Patrick Fugit as Robin Jones; he is the zoo's craftsman and has a pet monkey.
· John Michael Higgins as Walter "Walt" Ferris, a strict zoo inspector who earns the dislike of many people.
· Carla Gallo as Rhonda Blair, the secretary and bookkeeper of the zoo.
· J.B. Smoove as Mr. Stevens, the Mee family's real estate agent.
· Stephanie Szostak as Katherine Mee, the deceased wife of Benjamin Mee.
· Desi Lydic as Shea Seger, a woman with an obvious crush on Benjamin who always brings him lasagna.
· Peter Riegert as Delbert McGinty, Benjamin's boss before he 'starts over'.
· Michael Panes as the Principal
· Crystal the Monkey as a Capuchin
In May 2010, Cameron Crowe agreed to direct the 20th Century Fox adaptation of Benjamin Mee's memoir We Bought a Zoo. He then began rewriting the film's script, which was originally written by Aline Brosh McKenna.This was the first film that was directed by Crowe since the 2005 film Elizabethtown. The film was released on December 23, 2011.
Crowe traveled to the set of the film True Grit to persuade actor Matt Damon to take on the role of the lead character in the film. Crowe also presented a script of the film, a CD of songs that Crowe composed himself, and a copy of the 1983 film Local Hero, with instructions "to not just read the script and make a decision". Damon was persuaded to play the role after he was moved by Crowe's music and found that Local Hero was a "masterpiece". As for Crowe himself, he had already decided on Damon halfway through their meeting, though the distributor Fox still had a shortlist of candidates to play this role.
There are a number of differences between the story shown in the movie and the events that actually transpired. The real Benjamin Mee is British. The story was adapted for an American audience and the changes were met with Mee's approval.The actual zoo Mee bought is Dartmoor Zoological Park, located in Devon, England, while the fictional zoo in the film is called Rosemoor Wildlife Park, and is located in California.
In real life, Benjamin's wife, Katherine, died after they had already bought the zoo and moved in. In the film, Benjamin bought the zoo only after her death. Also, instead of an escaping bear, as portrayed by the film, it was a jaguar called Sovereign that had escaped. Additionally, Benjamin's children were younger (aged four and six respectively) than the children in the film.
In the film, the zoo was much easier to buy. In real life, it took almost two years to buy. Benjamin's first offer to buy the zoo was rejected due to his lack of experience in the zoological world. Finally, the real zoo opened on Saturday July 7, 2007. However, the movie moved that event up to the same date in 2010, maybe to make the story more current. This latter date fell on a Wednesday, but was identified in the script as the original Saturday.
The film has received mostly positive reviews from critics. The film received a rating of 67% on Rotten Tomatoes. Of the 147 reviewers surveyed, 98 of them certified the film as "fresh" while 49 of them certified it as "rotten". Metacritic gave the film a rating of 58%, with 37 reviews sampled.
Roger Ebert, reviewing for the Chicago Sun-Times, awarded the film 2.5 stars out of 4, describing the film as "too much formula and not enough human interest." He added that the film's "pieces go together too easily, the plot is too inevitable, and we feel little real energy between the players.". However, he did praise Damon, whom he says "makes a sturdy and likable Benjamin Mee". The New York Times reviewer Manohla Dargis criticized Crowe's direction, writing that it "makes the escalating tension between Benjamin and Dylan the story's soft center," while keeping "the brutality of illness and death" "safely off-screen". She also noted that the film uses "classic movie logic", specifically pointing out the way that Benjamin quits his job and that he "doesn't agonize about how he'll keep his children housed, fed and clothed". On the other hand, Dargis wrote that "you may not buy his [Cameron's] happy endings, but it's a seductive ideal when all of God's creatures, great and small, buxom and blond, exist in such harmony."
The Hollywood Reporter commented that the "uplifting tale [the film] has heart, humanity and a warmly empathetic central performance from Matt Damon", although it "doesn't dodge the potholes of earnest sentimentality and at times overplays the whimsy". The reviewer also praised the cast, describing them as "solid", and in particular praised Damon's character, whose struggle he says "gives the movie a soulful pull, even at its most predictable". Overall, this reviewer summarized his review by saying that "Cameron Crowe's film has some rough edges, but it ultimately delivers thanks to Matt Damon's moving performance.".