We Bought A Zoo stars Matt Damon as bereaved husband and adventure junkie, Benjamin Mee. In an effort to make a fresh start, Benjamin relocates his family to a house with its own struggling zoo. Brought to us by the director of Jerry Maguire, We Bought A Zoo is based on a true story.

We Bought A Zoo’s main plot focuses on the challenge of getting the zoo back into working order in time for opening day. This, rather predictable, element of the film fails to build any real sense of jeopardy and the animal escapades (an escaped bear and an uncaged lion) lack sufficient peril to make them thoroughly satisfying.

Instead, it is Benjamin’s attempts to rebuild his relationship with his children that offers the most gratification. Finding it much easier to communicate with his daughter (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), Benjamin alienates his son (Colin Ford) as the family struggles with their grief. This father-son friction adds some welcome tension and pace changes to the laid-back tempo of the main story.

As Benjamin tries to reconnect with his family, We Bought A Zoo has a hint of The Descendants about it, but lacks the subtlety and style of the Oscar nominated movie. Nevertheless, We Bought A Zoo is emotionally demanding in parts, particularly as father and son collide in an array of misunderstandings and altercations. Equally emotional is the clever union of both zoo and family plot lines, as Benjamin grapples with the suffering of an elderly Bengal tiger, mirroring his wife’s painful illness.

Matt Damon’s sensitive and warm performance holds We Bought A Zoo together and is key to audience investment in the story’s conclusion. As love interest Kelly Foster, Scarlett Johansson is also likeable and appealing. But We Bought A Zoo is also littered with one dimensional characters, such as the fastidious zoo inspector, who offer lightheartedness at the expense of realism.

Stylistically, We Bought A Zoo is backed by a beautiful soundtrack that director Cameron Crowe used heavily on set and in the production process to inspire the actors’ performances and to create the appropriate mood.

We Bought A Zoo is a sweet, family film that balances an emotionally trying sub plot with lighthearted escapism. Although its emotional strength is patchy, it is enjoyable and worth a look.

VERDICT:   ✪ ✪ ✪

For more information see the We Bought A Zoo site