Disappointments are measured in terms of expectations. I didn’t expect a lot out of We Bought a Zoo, so I was pleasantly surprised at how charming this family movie turned out to be. It’s totally over the top, like Disney’s Enchanted of a few years ago (though in its own way), but since it makes no pretense of being anything else, it’s okay. Cameron Crowe, who directed the film, admitted that after learning the movie’s release date would be December 23 (making it a Christmas movie), he “really went for it.”
Matt Damon grew his hair a little longer and put on some weight for his role as Benjamin Mee, the bereaved father of two children who buys a rural zoo that is in disrepair (complete with lions, tigers, and bears!). Damon, who has to be the most versatile actor since Tom Hanks, is totally believable in the part and ultimately that is what makes the movie work. Scarlett Johannson is quite good and refreshingly down-to-earth as the head zookeeper, Thomas Haden Church is solid as Mee’s older brother, but I’m not sure the real star of the movie isn’t Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Mee’s seven year old daughter, Rosie. Crowe probably relies on her a little too much, but it is understandable. If you liked the little boy (Ray) in his Jerry Maguire, then you’ll love Rosie, as she is the counterpart to him in this movie. She’s not only cute, she absolutely nails her lines.
The movie is an adaptation of Benjamin Mee’s autobiography of the same name and without giving anything important away, one of the big themes of the movie is the idea of approaching life as an adventure. The film begins with a voiceover by Dylan, Mee’s son, describing his father’s exploits as a journalist—flying into the eye of a hurricane, being covered with bees, and interviewing a dictator. Then it shifts to the more “ordinary” things associated with the zoo, confessing that “nothing prepared him,” for the challenges there. Then at strategic times throughout the movie, Mee explains their involvement as being part of an adventure.
There’s something here for the disciple of Jesus in all of this. In the movie, working hard, sticking together through adversity, honoring the memory of a loved one, and taking a risk in order to do something for others, are all presented under the rubric of adventure. I think this is the perspective our Father would have us to take toward the lives we live. He does not call us to be wimpy, whiny, weak-kneed people, ready to stop the world for prayer on our behalf every time something doesn’t go exactly our way. He calls us to be strong, vibrant, and courageous (2 Timothy 1:7).
Hebrews 11 as well as numerous other texts make it clear that adventure isn’t characterized by one spine-tingling event after another—it is a steady stream of honorable things done for the glory of God and the good of others. It’s nice to see a movie that recognizes and celebrates that.