The memoir of writer Benjamin Mee on which this film was based, sounds dramatic. Cameron Crowe’s version of events, however, loses some of its storytelling power. Leaning heavily on schmaltz, it’s a film with a nice enough message. Problem is, it amounts to the same level of excitement the zoo’s lions must feel pacing their enclosures every day. More
Matt Damon is convincing as the grief-stricken dad trying to reconcile with his troubled son, and Scarlett Johansson almost manages to throw off the shackles of her glamour to play the head zookeeper, without much of a backstory of her own. The child stars: Elle Fanning, Colin Ford and the so-cute-you’ll-hurl Maggie Elizabeth Jones also light up the screen. And the soundtrack, provided by Jonsi of Sigur Ros, arouses genuine emotion.
But for a film with such a wild premise, this family-friendly drama is surprisingly tame. The stakes aren’t high enough for us to truly care about the zoo’s fate; the family simply move in and have to get on with the slow, dull task of bringing it back to life (along with their relationships). Nor is the primary antagonist – a curmudgeonly, anal zoo inspector – particularly threatening. Even their misadventures – escaped animals, love troubles, rain – are dealt with all too easily. Crowe does his best to play to the film’s themes of mortality and moving on but the result is a film that feels, well, more like a movie than a true story. Hide