We Bought A Zoo Review

Animals or people?

It’s a tough one, and there are numerous occasions of living in London’s urban jungle where I’d happily answer in the former without hesitation.

As the real Benjamin Mee did last night.

By his own admission, Mee is a man who lives for adventure. He’s been covered in killer bees, with the protective caveat of wearing a beekeeper suit at the time, interviewed brutal dictators, flown through a force four hurricane and lived to write about his tales.

It’s what he does.

But life has one extreme adventure Mee simply wasn’t prepared for and that’s the death of his beloved wife Katherine.

Struggling to bring up their two children Dylan and Rosie on his own, as well as managing his grief and theirs, Mee decides a change might do them all good.

So he does what any sane person would do and buys a zoo.

Anyhow, turns out there’s a lot more to running a zoo than you might think, especially when it’s as run down and in need of renovation as Rosemoor Animal Park.

And as Mee battles to overcome this new challenge, he begins to take his mind off the painful truth he couldn’t escape in his old life.

Adapted from the book by the same name, We Bought A Zoo is the uplifting truish story of writer and former guardian columnist Benjamin Mee and his extraordinary adventures in zookeeping.

Truish, because Mee was on hand at The May Fair Hotel screening to explain just how many liberties in the name of creative licence Hollywood took with his original source material.

Which is quite a lot as it turns out; Devon’s Dartmoor Zoo has been re-christened and transported to California so American audiences can connect with this, the motivation for Mee moving his family into a zoo are a whole lot less emotional in reality and Matt Damon has a hell of a lot more hair than our real life hero.

Mee’s observation, rather than mine.

But Mee is a modern day hero, to me at least, and his inspiring example and natural charm shine through in both person and Damon’s his cinematic incarnation.

We Bought A Zoo won’t bite you with any real surprises, and you can pretty much guarantee what will happen before the opening credits have rolled.

Not that I cared one jot, as Cameron Crowe has once again crafted such a great feel good story that you gleefully buy into his take on Mee’s rollercoaster ride that has been the last decade of his life.

Apart from Damon’s thoroughly likable depiction of Mee, Scarlett Johansson reminds us that underneath the platinum highlights or skin tight leather featured in some of her more recent mainstream roles, she’s actually a good actress with an understated and glamour free portrayal of bona fide zookeeper Kelly.

There’s also an adorable performance by Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Mee’s daughter Rosie, whose spirit and innocence seems to be the driving force behind this fictional versions decision to pack up his family’s life and move them to a zoo.

And if she was my daughter, I’d have been even more wrapped around her little finger than Mee.

Of course, the real stars are the animals of this Hollywood airbrushed zoo.

I confess I had reservations before watching We Bought A Zoo, that it might be a bit too family oriented for my tastes.

I needn’t have, as I’m just a big kid anyway.

As soon as I heard the lion’s roar and saw the beautiful tigers, the film transported me back to a place I used to inhabit; before I turned into an adult, and pretended I was never once a child so easily amazed by the natural wonders of this world.

So if you feel like getting in touch with your inner child, I’d highly recommend seeing We Bought A Zoo.

Better yet, you can check out the real life version at Dartmoor Zoo and help support the real life Benjamin Mee’s good work.

It might even help you decide which you like better out of animals and people.

But I’m with Mee on this one.

Jonathan Campbell

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March 2012
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