We Brought a Zoo is as cute as it looks. Containing animals and children, as well as Matt Damon in full sentimental mode, it’s designed to be a lovely film that the whole family can see. In this case, there is nothing wrong with that. The performances help it to stand above its soppy equivalents, as Scarlett Johansson, Elle Fanning and Damon himself help to ground the story and prevent it from being over the top. The stand out characters, though, are the two Mee children, played by the impossibly cute Maggie Elizabeth Jones and the suitably angst-ridden Colin Ford. Although they are child stars, they are definitely ones to watch, and the scenes between Damon and his son prove to be both funny and touching.
Based on the non-fiction novel of the same name, We Brought a Zoo follows Benjamin Mee and his family as they (you guessed it) buy a zoo following the death of his wife (Stephanie Szostak.) This of course leads to much animal-based fun, with the varied cast of characters who already work at the zoo ridiculing their new boss. In a sense this is what saves the film, as the humour is an unexpected element that adds a new layer. Rather than simply concentrating on the tragic, the film becomes comic through the supporting cast, including Thomas Hayden Church as Mee’s straight-talking brother. In the funniest one scene role I have ever seen is J.B. Smoove, from Saturday Night Live, who is hilarious as the novice real estate agent who helps them buy the house. Of course there are villains too, with the farcical zoo inspector Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins) attempting to stop them at every turn.
The film, from the title to the plot, sounds ridiculous, but it is in fact surprisingly touching and entertaining to watch. Perhaps this is down to Damon, who is surprisingly good at playing such a human character in comparison to Bourne. The way that the film shows the past, with the children’s mother being inserted into scenes through their imagination, is also a clever use of cinematography. The film is funny, and touching, and cute, and may not be the hard-hitting type of movie that you prefer, but is well worth a watch. Perhaps take your Mum for a late Mother’s Day present. I promise she will love it, and maybe you can bear it too.