Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Grand Adventure? "We Bought A Zoo"

Did you ever see "August Rush"? No? You should watch it. Why am I bringing a movie about a musically gifted orphan on a post about a widower buying a zoo? Because, they felt very similar to me. In both good ways and bad. Let's take a look, shall we?

We Bought A Zoo
Directed by- Cameron Crowe
Written by- Aline Brosh McKenna and Cameron Crowe, based on the book by Benjamin Mee
Top Billed Cast- Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, and Thomas Haden Church

This movie has all the makings of a feel good classic: cute kids, animals that need saving, financial risk, fast-approaching deadline, and the beginnings of a romance. Benjamin Mee loses his wife, leaving his two kids Rosie and Dylan motherless, six months before the start of the film. We find them functioning, but barely. Dylan, at 14, is in constant trouble at school and his father isn't sure how to communicate with him. Benjamin, *never* "Ben", sees the only way to move forward is to move away and decides to take his family far away (9.2 miles from the nearest Target, to be exact), to start a new adventure. 

* The score to this movie, much like that of  "August Rush" though not quite as innovative, was great. The music was distinct but not over powering and is memorable without taking away from the movie.

* Maggie Elizabeth Jones. If you don't know who she is, I have a feeling you will soon. She plays the youngest Mee, Rosie, and she is incredibly cute. While she doesn't really do anything overtly profound or mind blowing, she has this presence and draw that makes even those of us that don't really find children all that appealing, start to reconsider that notion.

* Subtlety. I can't quite put my finger on it but something about Johansson's performance in this movie struck me as intriguing. The best way I can think to describe it is to say that she spoke small. Not that her lines were short or clipped or sounded choppy...just that she said almost as much, if not as much and more, in between lines as she did during them. Her performance, overall, was very different than any of the other things I've seen in her in before. In a good way, I suppose.

* Cinematography. This is actually a pro and a con because though a LOT of the shots were really pretty and well executed, there were a few that could have been nicer if not for the massive CHEESE fest that happened to be stationed near by. More on that below.

* There are some actors in some movies that are able to properly convey emotions without the utterance of a single word. This movie had a lot of moments where silence spoke louder than roars. And, believe me, there were lots of roars.

* I'd like to take this opportunity to discuss make up. I mentioned subtlety before and I'm going to mention it again. I only really noticed make up twice in this movie...well, by this I mean I noticed it in scenes that one might not should really notice make up. In other words, I liked not noticing it very often. Mascara and eyeliner have their place and their purpose but this movie was not about pirates or princesses, so I was glad it was left at the trailers.

* While I thought Johansson's performance was quite interesting, I almost felt like we didn't get to see enough of...something. I had hoped that the epilogue might explain some things but either her character was not one that actually existed, or she was based off of somebody no longer in the picture. Either way, something was missing.

* I almost put this in the Pros section but...just couldn't. The animal selection for this zoo, I just wish we had a better idea of what all was there from the start. While the animals highlighted from the beginning were VERY consistent and props for, at least seemingly, using the same Tiger in every shot, there were some parts where it seemed like they were saying "oh yeah! we have a serval and some warthogs and hundreds of different species of snakes and..." with no real thought to scale given.

* I understand that this movie is based off of a book which is based on a true story, so I understand that there are parts to this whole thing not explained in a 2 hour movie. Still, I do expect some bit of reality in respect to the number of snakes one can "lose" in a scene. What struggling zoo, funded only by an inheritance of a limited nature, orders a shipment of what looks like *hundreds* of varying species of snake?? If they couldn't even afford to feed the grizzly bear, which I will come to in a moment, how on earth do they expect to maintain that many habitats? I was just confused.

* On to the grizzly. In one scene this bear is, apparently, wandering through town? And the very next shot he's back on zoo property but still loose. I was confused as to how he traveled that distance, you know the "9.2 miles to the nearest Target" that was drilled into your head through the whole movie, in such a short amount of time. Upon reaching said bear, Mee is disarmed of his tranq gun for a full minute at least before a shot is heard and the bear goes down. All other characters who were off screen when this shot was fired congratulate him on shooting him...I guess he used magic?

* Have I mentioned yet how far away they lived from the nearest Target? 9.2 miles. Have I stated that they bought a zoo? They did. Both of these things were repeated throughout the entirety of the film. Funny the first time, cute the second, annoying the third, and obnoxious the fourth, fifth, sixth....There's a long running joke and then there's over used quips. While some might find these bits endearing, it annoyed me. Having at least two entire scenes devoted to, basically, a single line is kind of annoying.

* Maybe if I read the book this bit wouldn't bother me but I'm a firm believer in making films enjoyable for readers and watchers alike. I think that if you have time, which the copious amounts of wind/sunset/raindrop/etc shots indicate that they do,  then it is your duty to show developed characters. I honestly believe there was one character who never said a single line and at least two others that only uttered a minor thing in one scene. If we are expected to like these people, expected to enjoy their triumphs and feel their pain...we need to know them. I do not enjoy being expected to know a person's thoughts by the way the light reflects off their hair. It's pretty, but it isn't practical.

Now Mother..
This movie is rated PG and is fairly clean. It does deal with death, both animal and human, so be prepared to talk about grief and how it effects different people in different ways. Viewer beware..

Overall, I enjoyed the experience of the movie. I loved the score and, I think, Johansson's performance was interesting enough in and of itself to see it again. It's not a movie that is necessarily outstanding on any front but it does it's job and it does it well. You are transported, briefly, to this world and you want to see it work out. The struggles aren't necessarily original and the path to success has certainly been traveled more times than we can count, but the journey is still worth watching. Cameron Crowe does not disappoint with his way of connecting shots and breathing life into seemingly lifeless scenes nor do the performances, though mostly silent, of the supporting cast. 3/5 stars.

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