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By Jess Fenton
24th December 2011

When walking into a film that has the words “Based on a true story” plastered all over its posters and opening credits, you can only be sure of one thing; you are going to cry. So trust me when I say that this film delivers.

‘We Bought A Zoo’ is based on a book of the same name by Benjamin Mee (played on screen by Matt Damon). It’s the story of a recently widowed father of two who buys a zoo in an effort to “start over”, as his brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church) encourages him to do. This Cameron Crowe adaptation, which he co-wrote, takes place at Rosemoor, a rundown wildlife park outside of San Francisco, transposing the real life Dartmoor of Devon, England to a more U.S. friendly setting.


In the hands of any other director, this film could have turned into cheap Hollywood tripe. But Crowe did what Crowe does best and fills its scenes with loads of genuine heart - but unfortunately, no guts. ‘Zoo’ still has a touch of Hollywood fluff attached to it - but don’t worry, it’s hard to see through the veil of tears.

Matt Damon delivers as solid a performance as ever, supported by the two talented youngsters (Colin Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones) playing his children. Haden Church is irreverent and charming as always and the merry band of misfits that make up the zoo staff (Patrick Fugit, Angus Macfadyen) keep the energy up just enough.

In the hands of any other director, this film could have turned into cheap Hollywood tripe. But Crowe did what Crowe does best and fills its scenes with loads of genuine heart.

Scarlett Johansson’s head zookeeper Kelly Foster is a little weak, through no fault of the actress, but a messy back story and too much focus on the Benjamin character. Also, the 14 year age gap between Johansson and Damon was a little much for comfortable plausibility.

As with all Crowe films, his impeccable music taste saturates the scenes, with the dulcet tones of Petty, Dylan and Vedder providing the soundtrack, along with Sigur Ros’ Jonsi behind the score.

It’s been six years since we’ve seen a Cameron Crowe feature film on the big screen (eleven years since we’ve seen a good one). While ‘Zoo’ isn’t quite up to “Cameron Crowe” snuff, it’s getting there. Hopefully ‘We Bought A Zoo’ marks the beginning of an upwards climb for the long gone, and even longer missed, Mr Crowe.

RELEASE DATE: 26/12/2011
CAST: Matt Damon
Scarlett Johansson
Thomas Haden Church
Colin Ford
Maggie Elizabeth Jones
Angus Macfadyen
Elle Fanning
Patrick Fugit
John Michael Higgins
Stephanie Szostak
DIRECTOR: Cameron Crowe
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