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We Bought A Zoo: The Sneak Peek

Twentieth Century Fox sneaked We Bought A Zoo yesterday and - with the exception of Variety - it looks like it will be a commercial hit. The Facebook page where the studio invited movie goers to "tout" their responses for a chance to win a trip to the San Diego Zoo were all positive but what else would you expect.

From the handful of critics that have weighed in - Fox hasn't screened it for critics yet, and in fact asked for reviewers to hold off writing about the film until closer to its release date, but several plunked down their own money - it seems the overall consensus is that this is a commercial crowd pleaser. A tad sweet, not stupendous, but a heartwarming family flick.
Having just finished the book, I can say it is loosely based on Mee's memoir We Bought A Zoo. Taking the kernels of Mee's story: grief stricken father trying to overcome the morass of bureaucracy in order to open a zoo (the real one is in England, here it's in the states), it looks like Crowe has developed the human drama sadly lacking in the book. While the book focuses on the animals and meeting the overwhelming - and necessary - requirements of running a zoo (animal welfare is the mainstay and one that Mee takes seriously), the two children are very much in the background and the reader feels the loss. Had Mee included more about his relationship with his kids struggling through and past their mother's death, it would have been a much stronger work.
It looks like the film, from the open hearted Cameron Crowe has got that part down. And, according to the critics, he has done so without going too deeply into saccharine mode.

As David Rooney at The Hollywood Reporter said:
"Cameron Crowe’s film has some rough edges, but it ultimately delivers thanks to Matt Damon’s moving performance."
"The force that binds the disparate characters together and anchors the story in emotional truth is Damon’s Benjamin. His struggle gives the movie a soulful pull, even at its most predictable. Whether he’s pleading with an ailing Bengal tiger not to give up the will to live, lost in melancholy solitude or yelling in frustration at his son about a shared pain that neither of them can express, Damon brings integrity and intrinsic decency to a character just searching for the courage to emerge from grief."
Read the entire article at The Hollywood Reporter

Over at First Showing
"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." Read the whole review at First Showing

In contrast,  Variety had a grinch-like reaction
"We Bought a Zoo" is an odd bird, warm-blooded but largely lifeless. Adapted from Benjamin Mee's autobiographical account of his experiences as the new owner of a fixer-upper menagerie, Cameron Crowe's overlong pic works hard to deliver intermittent pleasures, most of which derive from Matt Damon's affable lead turn. Animal action, as well as comedy of any variety, remains curiously sparse as Crowe strains to make a tribe of his human characters, including a ragtag zoo-keeping team and the widowed Mee's two kids. Sneaked nearly a month in advance, Fox's holiday offering lacks the zip needed to drive upbeat word of mouth."
"Per usual for a Crowe film, the soundtrack comes stuffed with goodies, although the mix of Neil Young, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, among many others, lacks the moments of musical epiphany in the director's signature works. The score by Jonsi of Sigur Ros sounds a touch saccharine and doesn't mesh well with the vintage pop.
Tech credits, with the exception of the shapeless cutting, are solid but hardly vivid enough to compensate for the pic's deficiencies."
To read more of the same go to Variety although I have to say, I bet they've got it wrong!

We Bought A Zoo directed by Cameron Crowe (Say Anything, Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire) stars Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Maggie Elizabeth Jones and Colin Ford.