I’ve been thinking for a while about the strong enough sentence to open this review. Finally I have one. AVOID THIS MOVIE IF YOU HAVE EVER SEEN ANY FILM BEFORE. Otherwise, find something entertaining to do during screening, because this adventure has nothing exciting to offer. If you have any experience with cinema, you will quickly realise that although We Bought a Zoo claims to be based on true events, the version of these events has been filtered through so many Hollywood cheesy filmmaking 101, that there is nothing left of humanity that any sort of reality would offer.
You have probably seen the trailer that cannot really make up its mind and choose between being a comedy, a comedy drama or a family adventure. If you thought it would define itself as one or the other when presented in whole, you are wrong. After today’s screening of We Bought a Zoo, I’m more confused about its genre than when I watched Jack and Jill. So, here are the three main reasons why I absolutely hated We Bought a Zoo, but also why I think some people might actually like it…
I know it is a very general word to use in a form of critique, but trust me, there is no better word to describe the whole film. Literally, every single one of the scenes is cheesy in some way. I have no idea if a writer (Cameron Crowe noooo) lost a bet and thus he had to fill it with as many sweet scenes as he could, but really, the amount of cheese is just difficult to handle. Let me give you a few examples:
Benjamin Mee, portrayed by Matt Damon plays a man who lost his wife and is left alone with children that he does not necessarily handles well. Of course, Damon’s parental mistakes are not really any mistakes, he is of course a perfect father, but let us go with the creator’s suggestion that not everything is that perfect in his relationship with Dylan, his son. Thus, whenever the topic of Mee’s wife’s death or conflict with a growing up son is raised, we are bombed with sentimental speeches, long shots of Damon’s eyes tearing up and flashback of the family united running around the green fields laughing and just utterly happy. It wouldn’t be so bad if not the fact that everything about Mee’s life seems unbearably idealistic. Although he is now a single father, Mee decides to just go with the flow and being advised by his seven year old daughter’s enthusiasm, he literally buys a zoo. Of course, everyone is there to help and even the rational voice of his brother, we are meant to treat as unromantic and wrong. The real problems he encounters (such as getting into real debts, his son’s rebellious moods and the fact that his children seem not to get any education or friends) disappear naturally and the only time he loses temper, he uses negative emotions to deliver the very sentimental speech. The only bad guy, the inspector of the zoo who visits it twice in the movie, is stereotypically evil and of course, our heroes know how to deal with him ok. Mee gets the girl he wants somehow remaining emotionally loyal towards his life. Even when the weathermen announce the day before Mee reopens his zoo the start of the biggest storm season in the last hundred years, we know that he is going to get the whole city to come and visit his little, charming zoo. Everything is cute and nice and smiling and seriously, guys
It is impossible NOT to predict what is going to happen in We Bought a Zoo. Even if you try your hardest not to follow the cliches Hollywood has been training us for years to respond to, your brain will do it subconsciously for you, making We Bought a Zoo painful to watch. I don’t want to spoil the film for you, but just imagine these scenes in the most stereotypical script ever and tell me, which option you think Cameron Crowe has chosen to go with:
1. Benjamin Mee has been spending too much money in order to develop the zoo. One of the members of the crew discovers it and backfires him against everyone else in the team. It seems like ‘the adventure’ is over and Mee has to pack his stuff and sell the zoo. What happens next?
a) Mee sells the zoo
b) Mee takes a bank loan, however, his team becomes sceptical towards him
c) Mee discovers that his dead wife left him the money in case a situation like this happens. And it’s almost million dollars!
2. Dylan (Mee’s son) is an asshole. One of the girls working at the zoo, Lily really likes him. She brings him sandwiches every day and tries to get into any sort of conversation with him. Dylan, however, keeps ignoring her and being a total dick towards her. When he reveals to her that he can’t wait to go back to live in the city, the girl’s heart is broken. But can two people of the opposite sex but the same age NOT be together?
a) yes, Dylan and Lily never get on together. Because he obviously wasn’t interested and she is only thirteen, they find themselves other partners and live happily ever after.
b) Dylan realises that Lily is a nice girl, however, because he broke her heart, she doesn’t want to talk to him ever again.
c) Dylan expresses his sudden love towards Lily and they live happily ever after!
3.The zoo cannot be open unless it is accepted by the inspector, who is of course, the devil himself. His mission in life seems to be to destroy people’s dream and to be a total asshole. So…does he approve of the zoo?
a) No, the zoo still does not fulfil his mad requirements.
b) Yes, he just signs the papers and leaves.
c) Being touched by the supposedly super cute Mee’s daughter who says that everyone calls him a dick, but she doesn’t believe it, he decides to approve of the zoo and turns out not to be so evil after all.
If you managed to answer all of these questions, I am sure you know what I am talking about….Being so cliche, We Bought a Zoo fails to feel realistic, and it was suppose to be based on the true story after all.
3. The Truth
I watched We Bought a Zoo at the press screening with Q&A. The guest was Benjamin Mee himself, who was discussing the similarities between the movie and the reality, the zoo itself and the story behind it. It turns out that what was left from his own experience was the fact that he bought a zoo without knowing anything about it.
Benjamin Mee is English and his zoo is in England. He is extremely positive, charming and witty man who lives a great life that is fascinating to learn about. Although he was extremely happy with the fact that he was being played by Matt Damon, you could tell that so many things about the film were far from the reality, that he doesn’t really treat it as personally as he could. I must say, his own story seems to be so much more touching, more humane, more unique and simply more interesting. If We Bought a Zoo was a documentary, it would probably be the best documentary of the year. Unfortunately, Hollywood wanted differently. And Hollywood got what he wanted. But I didn’t.