Sneak Peek Review: Cameron Crowe's Wonderful 'We Bought a Zoo'
by Alex Billington
November 27, 2011
Sometimes you go in to see a movie, unsure of really what to expect, and it sweeps you away, connects with you emotionally in ways you didn't think possible, then the tears start flowing without any control. That's what happened to me seeing Cameron Crowe's new movie We Bought a Zoo at the sneak previews held Saturday evening; it's one of the most endearing, heartwarming, joyful films I've seen this year (so far). Part of this is thanks to Crowe, his direction and cast, another part of it is thanks to Jónsi's amazing score, which I wholeheartedly believe deserves Oscar recognition. I love this film, it filled my heart with true happiness.
Crowe's We Bought a Zoo is based on the real-life memoir's of Benjamin Mee (played by Matt Damon), a journalist who moves his young daughter Rosie (played Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and son Dylan (Colin Ford) into a small, struggling rural zoo in Southern California to start his life anew after his wife passed away. Yes, this zoo really exists in real life, and Crowe captured the story of how Mee, calm but still devastated by the loss of the love of his life, decides to go on an adventure and bring this zoo, and all of its inhabitants, back to life. It's a family film at its core, but we still get a fulfilling story of how one family finds happiness again by stepping out from darkness into the sunshine, and putting a little care into something that needs some care.
Maybe it was just the mood I was in that night, maybe it was the fact that had just flown in earlier in the day from a wonderful visit with my family for Thanksgiving, maybe it was just that outstanding of a film made with a genuine passion by everyone involved. Whatever it was, it got to me, and I found myself wiping away tears multiple times, laughing often, and walking out with one of the warmest, happiest feelings one could wish for leaving a movie theater. I think my friend Jack Giroux said it best in his quick reaction to this film on Film School Rejects: "If The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is going to be the 'feel-bad' movie of Christmas, then this is certainly going to go down as the ultimate 'feel-frickin'-great' movie of Christmas." Indeed.
A large reason why this is such a wonderful movie is Cameron Crowe himself. If it had been directed by anyone else, it would not have turned out anywhere nearly as endearing or impressive, instead it would've been a cheesy Hollywood comedy with goofy animals and sound effects. Crowe, who if you know his work (e.g. Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky) you already know is a talented filmmaker, directs with a subtly, not overdoing any of the few jokes or fun moments aimed towards a younger audience, but without losing an ounce of emotion in the story or characters. It's that balance that works wonders.
Of course, I must make mention of the score, written by Sigur Ros frontman Jónsi. I've been a longtime fan of Sigur Ros and while they do use "Hoppípolla" in the film once, his original score written for We Bought a Zoo is just extraordinary. I can't wait to get my hands on it to listen to endless times over. Every time I'd hear the score come in, used almost quietly in the background, right on queue I'd start to well up again. It certainly deserves at least an Oscar nomination. It was the cherry on top—an incredibly sweet one—of an already fantastic movie that instantly won me over and took my emotions on an adventure as unforgettable and enjoyable as the one Benjamin, Rosie, Dylan, and the entire staff of the Rosemoor Wildlife Park go on.
Editor's Note: Yep, I actually paid full-price for a ticket to see this Sneak Preview on Saturday evening. But even so, when you truly love a superb film, and I mean genuinely love it, you can't help but profess that love.