in ,

We Bought A Zoo


‘…s a sunny, lightweight, crowd-pleasing film of a kind that doesn’t get made anymore…’

WTF ever happened to Cameron Crowe? The writer/director was a toast of Hollywood with films like Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, and yet we’ve not seen a feature film from him in years. Sure, you can point to flops like Elizabethtown and Aloha as knocking him of the A list, but most directors alternate hits and flops; Crowe was a champion of old-school Hollywood nous, making original films with great soundtracks that made an indelible impact on pop culture; phrases like ‘You had me at hello’ and Show me the money’ have taken on a life far beyond their original context. Crowe noted that the film they came from, Jerry Maguire, would not have existed in its current form if it wasn’t for a writers strike; either way, in 2022, a comeback would be welcome.

2010’s We Bought A Zoo saw Crowe contribute a script re-write as a gun for hire; although this wasn’t a passion project, the genial, bitter-sweet flavour could only be him. Matt Damon plays Benjamin Mee, a widower who decants his two kids to an abandoned zoo, one which needs a bit of fixing-up. The adventure puts father back in contact with his kids, and his own grief; romance blooms with Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) and the zoo is gradually put up to code for a feel-good finale. Even the curmudgeonly inspector (John Michael Higgins) turns out to be a goodie after all.

We Bought a Zoo was a sizable hit; with a touchy-feely director on form, you can’t go wrong with kids, animals and well-delivered sentiment. Damon is some way from his usual wheelhouse as Mee, but captures the determination and self-doubt of a father whose burden is both financial and spiritual; there’s also neat support from Thomas Hayden Church, Elle Fanning and Almost Famous star Patrick Fugit, who bonds nicely with his monkey. It’s a sunny, lightweight, crowd-pleasing film of a kind that doesn’t get made anymore; even the transplanting of an almost-true story from Britain to America runs smoothly.

Crowe’s book about his friendship with Billy Wilder is one of the best modern stories of cinematic development; it’s clear that Wilder is resistant to the idea of passing the torch to Crowe, but he eventually comes to trust and respect the younger man. A painful divorce and a man-out-of-time reputation may have stymied Crowe’s development, but he’s never made a bad movie in my opinion. The old Hollywood for tears and laughter seems some way away in 2022, but Crowe needs a kick-start right now, and even the frothiest of his films remind us of the unique standpoint that Crowe brought to cinema.


Leave a Reply
  1. Remember enjoying this at the time. Somewhat lightweight project but great cast. Damon always interesting to watch and Johanssen before her career got diverted by super powers.

  2. I didn’t recognise Damon in the poster for a moment what is he? 15? Almost Famous in my top 5 movies of all time, think I’ve seen it at least 3 times and I’ll still watch it again, this one never appealed but I’d do the ironing to it.

    • This was the only one I hadn’t seen until last week, but ALL his films work in some way for me, and this one is perfect for ironing.

  3. Wow, Damon looks so young. I’d like to see this movie where his evil twin, old Bourne, comes back and tries to fricassee all the birds, only to be stymied by the love of his cute nieces and nephews while young Damon and Johanson look on and talk about eating Crowe.

    The last paragraph, who is billy wilder? and what is his connection with this movie? or was that just a wider remark about Crowe in general?

Leave a Reply