Films featuring animals generally mean one thing: our cohabitants from the natural world have something to teach us. Lassie’s loyalty, Seabiscuit’s perseverance or the primal aggressions of wolves/ dinosaurs/gorillas are forces of nature that we ignore at our peril.
Our perception of animals is necessarily human. We see what we want, or what we think we want. Take We Bought a Zoo, directed by Cameron Crowe. This man gave us Vanilla Sky and Jerry Maguire, films that marketed human endurance with edge.
This latest offering stars Matt Damon as Benjamin Mee, a recently widowed father of two who leaves a memory-infested environment for a new start on an impulse-bought, insolvent zoo in southern California.
Naturally, the depressed bear and dying tiger are there for a reason. The former gets a bigger home and the latter is allowed to pass on in dignity. And naturally, the learning curve involves a lot of animal watching as Mee accepts suffering, heeds the fulfilment of basic needs and makes his bid to rejoin the general flow of humanity.
This is decent, un-sloppy sentimentality and it works well enough, with proficient performances from Damon, Scarlett Johansson as the resident straight-talking zookeeper and Thomas Haden Church as the brother who ends up coming along for the ride. Full marks for basic psychology. Exciting and innovative? Could do better.
We Bought a Zoo (Wir kaufen einen Zoo) | Directed by Cameron Crowe (USA 2011) with Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church. Starts May 3