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Cameron Crowe
Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Colin Ford, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Angus Macfadyen, Elle Fanning, Patrick Fugit
Writing Credits:
Aline Brosh McKenna, Cameron Crowe, Benjamin Mee (book)

Oscar Winner Matt Damon gives a heartfelt performance in this "delightful surprise" (Lou Lumenick, New York Post) that's based on a true story. When his teenage son gets into trouble, Benjamin Mee (Damon) gives up a lucrative newspaper job to move his family to the most unlikely of places: a zoo! With help from an eclectic staff, and with many misadventures along the way, Benjamin embarks on a fresh beginning to restore the dilapidated zoo to its former glory, while uniting his family. From the director of Jerry Maguire, We Bought a Zoo is a "wonderful, warm and witty" (Bill Bregoli, CBS Radio News) celebration of the human spirit.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$9.450 million on 3117 screens.
Domestic Gross
$75.406 million.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Dolby Digital 5.1 Descriptive Audio
English Family Friendly Audio Track
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 124 min.
Price: $39.99
Release Date: 4/3/2012

• Audio Commentary with Director Cameron Crowe, Actor JB Smoove and Editor Mark Livolsi
• Deleted and Extended Scenes
• Gag Reel
• “We Shot a Zoo” Featurette
• “Their Happy Is Too Loud” Featurette
• “The Real Mee” Featurette
• Photo Gallery
• Sneak Peeks and Trailer
• DVD Copy
• Digital Copy


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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We Bought A Zoo [Blu-Ray] (2011)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 18, 2012)

When I first saw the trailer for 2011’s We Bought a Zoo, I figured it’d offer cheap, goofy family entertainment. After all, movies about zoos tend to be broad, slapstick comedies with lots of tacky gags. When I noticed Matt Damon in the ad, my expectations leapt a little, but the flick still looked pretty puerile.

And then I found out that Cameron Crowe directed Zoo, a fact that definitely piqued my interest. It also landed the Blu-ray in my player and this review on my laptop!

Risk-taking journalist Benjamin Mee (Damon) finds himself confronted with an adventure for which he can’t prepare: life as a single parent. When his wife Katherine (Stephanie Szostak) dies, he ends up the sole caretaker for son Dylan (Colin Ford) and daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones).

Benjamin finds it tough to move on, partly because he sees reminders of Katherine everywhere he goes in their town. With Dylan in constant trouble at school and other concerns, Benjamin decides that he needs to get the kids out of the city and find a big place with “rolling hills”.

Eventually, he and Rosie locate a seemingly perfect place that comes with one major catch: it’s a zoo, and any purchaser must continue to care for its animals. Benjamin initially resists this idea but when he sees how Rosie responds to the property, he takes a leap of faith and invests in the property. From there he deals with the staff – led by head zookeeper Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson) – as well as zoo-connected challenges and the care of his kids.

I was surprised to realize that Zoo offered Crowe’s first feature film in six years. He’d not done anything since the 2005’s awful Elizabethtown, and Zoo marked only his second movie since 2001’s Vanilla Sky. (Crowe also assembled PJ20, the 2011 Pearl Jam documentary, and The Union, a look at a recent Elton John/Leon Russell collaboration.)

10 years ago, Crowe seemed to be on a roll. Sky didn’t get great reviews, but it did pretty well at the box office, while 2000’s Almost Famous was a well-received gem. 1996’s Jerry Maguire fared well on both levels, so Crowe enjoyed a nice five-year run.

And then bupkis. As a return to the big screen, Zoo certainly seems inauspicious; a “PG”-rated family comedy/drama doesn’t seem like something for Crowe to mark his name as a Big-Time Talent. However, at least it manages to create a reasonable piece of entertainment that avoids the genre pitfalls.

By that I mean that Zoo doesn’t talk down to its audience as it might’ve done in other hands. When a movie involves such a silly plot notion as “family buys a zoo”, we encounter a high probability that idiocy will result. On occasion, Zoo gets a smidgen goofy, but not with any frequency; instead, it stays light but likable.

The presence of solid actors helps. As I noted earlier, the mere presence of Damon gives the project a grounding and gravity it would lack if someone less “A”-list appeared. Damon adds depth to a character who otherwise could’ve be a flat personality, and he brings class to the proceedings. The other actors follow suit, and with supporting participants like John Michael Higgins and JB Smoove, we’re guaranteed decent laughs to leaven the family drama.

In terms of the film’s comedy, the basic premise of Zoo would lead one to expect all sorts of cheap gags. Happily, none of these appear. We get no anthropomorphic critters, no one falls into animal poop, and no beastie ever farts. If you expect Zookeeper or the like, you’ll not find it here; Zoo sticks with realism and a grounded feeling, so while it includes humor, the jokes don’t revolve around crassness or crudeness.

On the negative side, Zoo does run awfully long. Granted, compared to the film’s alleged 3.5-hour initial cut, 124 minutes sounds good, but it still feels too extended for a movie with such a simple premise.

Indeed, by the point I thought the story was winding toward its finale, I glanced at my player’s time display and realize we had almost an hour to go! The movie doesn’t proceed at a glacial pace, but I do think it could’ve used much more tightening; some sequences go on forever – especially during the zoo’s opening – and the flick could’ve used a “less is more” approach at times.

Despite that and a painfully Field of Dreams feel at times, We Bought a Zoo delivers pretty good family entertainment. The film rarely speaks down to the audience and it offers a nice mix of drama and comedy.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus B+

We Bought a Zoo appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. The movie boasted a consistently strong presentation.

Sharpness always looked great. Even the widest shots demonstrated fine delineation, so don’t expect to see any signs of softness. The image lacked moiré effects or jaggies, and edge haloes failed to materialize. Print flaws also didn’t show up in this clean presentation.

Like many family flicks, Zoo opted for a palette with a mild golden tint. It still demonstrated a nice range of hues, as the zoo-based scenes were able to open up the tones well. Blacks were dark and tight, and shadows looked clear and smooth. Everything here worked fine.

As for the movie’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, it went with pretty typical fare for a drama/comedy, though the zoo setting allowed it to open up a bit. Those scenes spread out the natural elements and created a nice sense of place. Nothing here really excelled, but the track managed to plop us in the zoo atmosphere well.

Audio quality was fine. Music seemed full and vivid, and effects showed good replication; those elements demonstrated solid clarity and heft. Speech was always distinctive and concise. Again, this wasn’t an exceptional soundtrack, but it suited the movie well.

With that, we head to the package’s extras and check out an audio commentary from director Cameron Crowe, actor JB Smoove and editor Mark Livolsi. All three sit together for a running, screen-specific discussion of music and the atmosphere during the shoot, cast and performances, sets and locations, story/character topics, editing, and working with animals.

I’ve really enjoyed other Crowe commentaries, and that fact makes this one a disappointment. While we do learn a decent amount of information about the shoot along the way, the piece usually remains pretty superficial. Smoove comes along almost solely to add some laughs, and this lack of seriousness pervades the commentary. This means the track can be fun but it doesn’t do much to educate us about the movie.

20 Deleted and Extended Scenes fill a total of 37 minutes, 27 seconds. That’s a lot of cut footage – does any of it score? Not really. I already think the theatrical edition of the film runs too long, so it doesn’t surprise me that the excised material lacks much to make it compelling.

Most of the clips end up in the “extensions” category, and they tend to add just a little extra character exposition. Some of these fill in a few small dots but they do nothing to substantially change our viewpoint. At best, we get mild entertainment value here – such as a longer glimpse of Rhonda’s narcissism – but don’t expect much from these pieces.

Next comes a Gag Reel. In this six-minute, 57-second piece, we see a lot of the usual goofs, gags and giggles. A few funny asides pop up, at least, and these make the proceedings a bit more enjoyable than most.

A collection of featurettes appears under the banner of We Shot a Zoo. Taken together, these five segments occupy a total of one hour, 15 minutes, and 52 seconds and they come with narration from Crowe.

“Shot” launches in fall 2006, and introduces us to the real-life Benjamin Mee, the subject of the movie’s story. We also meet Mee’s now-deceased wife Katherine, Smoove, production designer Clay Griffith, Greenfield Ranch manager Gary Robertson, location manager Chris Baugh, art director Dominic Silverstri, producer Julie Yorn, location coordinator Michael Villarino, script supervisor Ana Maria Quintana, still photographer Neal Preston, animal coordinator Mark Forbes, lead lion/tiger trainer Eric Weld, lead bear trainer Doug Seus, bear trainer Lynn Seus, hoofstock trainers Erin Shelley and Alison Smith, animal trainers Dave Sousa and Thomas Gunderson, writer Aline Brosh McKenna, on-set dresser John H. Maxwell, and actors Matt Damon, Thomas Haden Church, Angus Macfadyen, Patricj Fugit, Elle Fanning, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Colin Ford, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Ybarra, Ben Seeder, John Michael Higgins, Stephanie Stoszak, and Carla Gallo.

“Shot” largely acts like a production diary; as Crowe narrates, we follow the film’s origins and progress. This means we learn about locations and sets, rehearsals and cast, characters and performances, Crowe’s impact on the production and the atmosphere on the set, working with animals, and general thoughts. Shot” tends to be bright and cheerful; it wants to extend the movie’s sense of magic rather than dig into serious details. And that’s mostly fine, though “Shot” ends up with more of a cotton candy feel than I’d like from a 75-minute show. We do learn a reasonable amount about the flick, but expect a lot of happy happy along the way.

Their Happy Is Too Loud goes for 17 minutes, 29 seconds and provides an experience similar to “Shot”. It lets us examine scoring sessions for the film and we hear some observations from Crowe as well as composer Jonsi. Occasional tidbits of information emerge, but mostly we hear praise for Jonsi and his work; useful information appears too infrequently for my liking, and the piece comes across as too self-congratulatory.

Another featurette called The Real Mee lasts 28 minutes, 35 seconds and offers info from Benjamin Mee, the real-life inspiration for the film. He tells us about his zoo-owning experiences and connections to the movie. Probably the best of the Blu-ray’s extras, this provides an involving and informative look at the facts behind the flick’s fiction.

Next we get a Photo Gallery. This comes as a still frame collection that includes 122 shots from the set. These offer better than average quality and give us many nice glimpses of the shoot.

The Blu-ray opens with ads for Ice Age – Continental Drift and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. These appear under Sneak Peek as well, and we also get the trailer for Zoo.

A second disc offers a DVD Copy and a third provides a digital copy of Zoo. These add some portability to the package.

I suspect most people expected a broad, crass comedy from We Bought a Zoo, but instead, the movie provided a warm family flick with a good mix of laughs and seriousness. The film runs too long and can be a little spotty, but it still succeeds more than it drags. The Blu-ray boasts excellent visuals, solid audio and a large though occasionally superficial set of supplements. Zoo doesn’t compete with Cameron Crowe’s best work, but it’s a nice family flick.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.8888 Stars Number of Votes: 18
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main