We Bought a Zoo is a good movie. I just listened to Filmspotting‘s list of top 10 movies of the year and you won’t find We Bought a Zoo there or probably any other list of the critically acclaimed. (Of course I’ve only heard of a handful of what they did mention.) And it shouldn’t be. The plot is simple and even predictable. Damon is effective in the lead and Scarlett Johansson redeems recent performances, buy neither blows you away. Thomas Hayden Church is the hammy pessimist. John Michael Higgins and Elle Fanning are show stealers. And it works. It’s good. Sitting there in the theater it hit me that, with the over-dramatic, computer generated, and suped-up special effects, the art of the good and pleasant movie is somewhat lost these days. We Bought a Zoo is just … good.
We narrowed our list of potential movies to Sherlock Holmes, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and We Bought a Zoo. I don’t know how you go about making the decision at your house, but for us deciding which movie we’re going to watch gets tough once we get the decision down to three. It came down to this: Cameron Crowe. He struck magic with Jerry Maguire. Hit Oscar with Almost Famous. Became iconic with Say Anything. Entered the vernacular with Fast Times. And struck a profound chord with Elizabethtown. Suffice it to say, Crowe is one of our favorites. And even though it felt like he didn’t really know how he wanted to shoot this movie or where he wanted to insert those great lines of his, he’s still Cameron Crowe and he can still bring it. In We Bought a Zoo Crowe creates more than a few magical moments.
What was best about We Bought a Zoo, though, was much simpler. Our world is anything but certain these days. The economy remains a mess and lots of us are upside down on our houses as a result of another bubble gone “poof.” It can and is hard for a lot of people stuck between stagnation on one side and inability to act on the other. Damon’s character, Benjamin Mee, is facing a circumstance that should resonate with all of us. Far from a passive type, Mee is living an adventure when we are first introduced to him. But then he is invited into a greater adventure by the Larger Story of life. He responds by taking a chance. He takes a shot. At its heart, We Bought a Zoo is about a dad that responds to life’s call and does something right. When faced with one of tough life decisions, he chooses to act.
Our decisions in these moments are not always the right ones. But the important thing, it seems, is to make a decision; to take your shot. And that’s what Benjamin Mee does. He does something many would call crazy—and they would be right. But in taking his shot Benjamin Mee is taking ownership of his life and the future of his family. That’s always a good story. Agonistes recommends We Bought a Zoo as a show of support for the people that make good movies.