Young and wild at heart

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

BEN­JAMIN MEE (Da­mon) is griev­ing the loss of his wife and strug­gling with parental is­sues when he jacks in his job and buys a run­down zoo.

Sunny seven-year-old daugh­ter Rosie (Mag­gie El­iz­a­beth Jones, adorable) couldn’t be hap­pier with her new pet pheas­ants, griz­zly and tigers. But sullen and dif­fi­cult teen Dy­lan (Colin Ford) is most put out by the move and re­treats, obliv­i­ous to the keen at­ten­tions of home­schooled goof­ball Elle Fan­ning, into draw­ing de­cap­i­tated heads.

Can the zoo’s od­dball staff – earnest, pouting zookeeper Scar­lett Jo­hans­son, drunken en­clo­sure de­signer An­gus Mac­fadyen, Pa­trick Fugit with a ca­puchin mon­key on his shoul­der – glue the dys­func­tional fam­ily back to­gether? And will the zoo be ready in time for the vil­lain­ous in­spec­tor’s visit?

There’s just no con­test. Cameron Crowe is, hands down, the nicest man in show busi­ness. Ask any­one. And what’s more, ev­ery­body loves the idea of Cameron Crowe. The life of the one-time teenage Rolling Stone scribe turned Academy Award-win­ning film-maker is a Cin­derella story worth cheer­ing for. If this were, in fact, Say Any­thing or Jerry Maguire or most other Cameron Crowe movies we’d be on our feet right now.

Sadly, life in the re­view­ing classes bears scant re­sem­blance to a Cameron Crowe joint. Too of­ten, our days have been ru­ined by, well, Cameron Crowe movies. Too of­ten, the di­rec­tor’s trade­mark cutesy-pie soft-heart­ed­ness has trans­lated into the more mawk­ish mo­ments of Sin­gles and Al­most Fa­mous. And then came the twin catas­tro­phes of Vanilla Sky and El­iz­a­beth­town. Let’s never speak of the pa­pier-mâché dove again.

We Bought a Zoo is a re­turn to form for the writer-di­rec­tor. An ex­cel­lent fam­ily flick jol­lied along by fine per­for­mances and de­cent­mind­ed­ness, it un­folds like mil­i­tary as­sault on the tear ducts. Don’t know when to cry? Here comes Sigur Rós’ Jónsi with an evoca­tive sonic swoop to help you on your way.

The film works well on its own shame­lessly ma­nip­u­la­tive terms even though the ra­tio­nal part of your brain keeps chim­ing in with a re­cent Peta press re­lease on the mat­ter: to run a zoo “does not just re­quire ‘heart’”.

Ab­so­lutely adorable – and the kid’s cute too: Scar­lett Jo­hans­son and Mag­gie El­iz­a­beth Jones in We Bought a Zoo

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