We Bought a Zoo - Not all the animals are cuddly, but Cameron Crowe's movie definitely is

(Image credit: Neal Preston)

The story of the English journalist who bought a rundown zoo on the edge of Dartmoor has been transported to southern California and given a coating of Hollywood gloss with this lavish movie starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, yet despite the inevitable changes and compromises We Bought a Zoo remains a remarkable, heart-warming tale.

In the film’s version, Damon’s grief-stricken widower Benjamin Mee comes upon the ideal new home for his two young children, which just happens to have a dilapidated zoo attached. Undeterred, he sinks all his savings into the scheme – to the delight of his cute-as-a-button 7-year-old daughter but the dismay of his moody 14-year-old son. The zoo staff, led by comely head keeper Kelly (Johansson), are sceptical too, even though Mee’s undertaking offers the only hope of survival for the zoo and its animals. Can Mee and his family pull together and pull off this mad venture?

Well, We Bought a Zoo fits squarely into the bracket of uplifting family fare so you pretty much know the answer going in. There are setbacks and crises, of course, including an escaped grizzly bear, an ailing tiger and a pernickety zoo inspector, but while the creatures may be dangerous, Jerry Maguire director Cameron Crowe definitely plays things safe. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and even though the film is more than a tad overlong, the charm of the animals and the cast, plus a soundtrack of well-chosen rock classics, make a visit to this cinematic zoo an appealing outing to take.

On general release from Friday 16th March.

Help save Dartmoor Zoo. Visit the zoo's official website and find out how you can help.

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.