Thank goodness for no talking animals – not even the family dog – in We Bought a Zoo, the cute and slightly sappy Cameron Crowe movie that has a couple of surprises for parents…
Matt Damon stars as Benjamin Mee, the real-life owner of a wildlife park. After the death of his beloved wife Katherine, Mee decides to find a new place to live that won’t constantly remind him of her, portrayed in flashback by Stephanie Szostak.
He ends up buying a run-down zoo full of beautiful animals and staffed by some very dedicated folks, led by head zookeeper Kelly Foster (a natural-looking Scarlett Johansson).
Mee has two children – the troubled 14-year-old Dylan (Colin Ford), who just wants to go home, and the spunky and adorable 7-year-old Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) who loves the zoo.
While he buries himself in debt, he tries to separate himself from the memories of his wife. His accountant brother, well-played by Thomas Haden Church, gives him horrible personal advice but tries to help him with his finances and the zoo.
Two gems of the cast include the scotch-swilling Peter MacCready (Angus Macfadyen – Robert the Bruce in Braveheart) and up-tight inspector Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins – from all the Christopher Guest movies and tons of others). The fresh-faced Elle Fanning plays a sheltered homeschooler who befriends Dylan.
So – some heavy subject matter, graphic images from Dylan’s drawings, and a few choice swear words I wasn’t expecting in a PG-rated movie may surprise parents of young children. We took the whole clan (ages 3 through 16) and after the first “s-word” hit, I whipped out my phone (gasp!) and checked out what it was rated. Yes, PG, just like Shrek.
While the swearing isn’t pervasive, it does seem a little gratuitous and incongruous. The little girl uttering a vulgar word is good for a laugh line but I also heard groans from the parents in the theater – including myself. There’s also a part about the Easter Bunny you may not want the under 9 crowd to hear, although I don’t think the younger contingency of our group caught it (phew!).
Maybe they were trying to stay true to writer Mee’s book about his real-life adventure called We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Changed Their Lives Forever. If so, maybe it should have been rated PG-13.
The wildlife shots are beautiful, the rehabilitation of the zoo is inspiring, and the wrap-up of the story works. Just be warned – it’s not your typical PG movie and it comes in over 2 hours so it might be a challenge to keep the kids interested during some of the longer set-up scenes. It does contain a piece of life-lesson advice everyone can take away for themselves, which I will not spoil here.
All in all, a solid movie that older kids will enjoy.
Marijo Tinlin is the Editor in Chief of Family First, one of the oldest family-oriented websites on the internet. She is also the author of the new book about patriotism and teaching our children to love this country. It’s called “How to Raise an American Patriot, Making it Okay for Our Kids to Be Proud to Be American” and features 13 interviews with patriotic Americans including Ed Meese, Erick Erickson and Jackie Gingrich Cushman. It’s available at www.raisinganamericanpatriot.com.