If this movie poster doesn't scream Lifetime Movie of the week, I don't know what does...
Erica: We saw We Bought A Zoo during the special sneak preview. They had the preview a month early with the intent of spreading solid word-of-mouth in advance of its Christmas Day release where it'll be up against half a dozen other big new films. I also feel this is a good week to show this sneak preview as you are with your family and will most likely have seen the new films that came out on Wednesday, or they may be sold out. The theater was not completely packed at first but then got crowded as the movie began (I am guessing some of that was Muppets overflow after the families found that sold out.) All was going well until some guy in front of me decided to watch the movie with his arm up, completely blocking my view. Being that this movie is a little over two hours, I decided not to stand for it and spoke up. Not loudly, not rudely, just stern enough to get my point across. With that said, the movie continued.
Mike: Cameron Crowe's We Bought a Zoo, to me, seemed like it should have been a Made-for-Disney-Channel movie about ten years ago. With Steve Guttenberg instead of Matt Damon and Aunt Becky from Full House in the Scarlett Johansson role. And directed by whoever made Air Bud 2. It's a sappy, cutesy film that is elevated slightly above typical family tripe by solid performances and better-than-average dialogue under Cameron Crowe's direction. But top notch ingredients don't change the fact that We Bought a Zoo is one animal fart joke away from Disney Channel programming.
That said, as a family film - and not seeing it as a Camerone Crowe film or a Matt Damon film - it's okay. If you have kids, this is a good film to take them to over the holidays. It's enjoyable and probably won't offend you as much as some of the other so-called "family" options you'll have when it comes out in late December, like Alvin & the Chipmunks 3.
Aside from the sappiness and Lifetime-levels of emotional manipulation, there are a few things that bothered me about the film that I want to highlight. Starting with John Michael Higgins' bad guy character - a USDA park inspector who is out to get the good guys and wants to put the kibosh on the park's scheduled opening. It was written and performed as a Hanna Barbera cartoon villain, further reverberating this film's disturbing Made-for-Disney vibe.
But that pales in comparison to the sense of irresponsibility that I gleamed from this film. First of all, the idea of buying and running a zoo without any experience or preparation is not just preposterous but also incredibly irresponsible. The impulsiveness really irked me and didn't belong in a film that's otherwise high on family values. And second, it really bugged me that the film's main character is able to just up and quit his job and buy a zoo, which I'm pretty sure must be expensive. No explanation of how he's able to afford it. In today's economy, I think it's owed to us - an audience comprised of many people who struggle to make ends meet - to explain just how this guy can quit his job and buy a zoo. Did he inherit a ton of money? Did he make a lot of money as a writer and save it up? Was it too much to just tell us that they're set and that they don't have to worry about money? To expect us to just go along with it and not question the fiscal realities bothered me to no end. Only towards the end of the film, when Matt Damon's character runs out of money to get the zoo ready for opening day, does the money issue come up.
We Bought a Zoo is a disappointment as an entry in the Cameron Crowe filmography. But seeing it as a run-of-the-mill family film, it's just fine and will provide two hours of wholesome entertainment for all members of your family. And it's not nearly as bad as Elizabethtown.