On Friday night, courtesy of Mumsnet, I went to a preview of the new Matt Damon and Scarlett Johannson film, We Bought a Zoo. The preview was at the Twentieth Century Fox European Headquarters in London, where we were treated to wine (or juice in my case) and nibbles before hand and a goody bag awaited us on our seats on entering the screening room.

Before attending the preview I watched the film trailer. Obviously a cast led by the two aforementioned actors is nothing less than A-list, with some other familiar faces popping up during the film. After watching the trailer I wasn’t sure whether it was a film I would usually chose to go and see but it looked fun and I was still interested to watch it.

Here is the trailer if you want to take a look:

After watching the trailer I read an interview in The Telegraph with the man (Benjamin Mee) whose experiences and writing inspired the film. This made me really interested to see it. This man’s story really was one that I would expect to see on the big screen. It sounded like such an adventure, although my one concern was that the real story happened in Devon, England and the film is set in California, USA. My initial thought when I read this was “oh no, not another P.S. I Love You”. I love that book and was not impressed by the film adaptation at all, but in this case it didn’t matter. Watching the film I didn’t feel the location of the story detracted from it’s telling. This may be because I haven’t read the book but it became apparent to me very early on that this wasn’t going to be an issue for me, which meant I could relax and enjoy it. The change of setting isn’t the only change to the real life story, it really does seem like the film is inspired by this story rather than trying to actually tell it. I think it’s important to take this into consideration to fully enjoy the experience. There are however some nice nods to the original story, such as the children having their own zoo uniforms. The real Mee children actually volunteer at their zoo, educating other children about the animals.

So, the film starts by giving the audience a feel for the type of man that Benjamin Mee (played by Matt Damon) is. This is narrated from the perspective of his son, played by Colin Ford. I was quite excited about this, thinking this would be a nice way for the story to be told throughout the film, but it wasn’t. It was used appropriately again at the end but had this been utilised for the duration, I think it may have given the film that something I felt it lacked. Don’t assume by me saying this that I didn’t enjoy it, I did. I often rate films by how often I look at my watch during them and I didn’t look once, so from that point of view it is on to a winner but there was something missing for me.

The performances were at worst good and in some cases brilliant. Matt Damon plays a role very different to any I have seen him play before. I own all the Bourne films and the Ocean’s films and I really rate him as a performer. He was very believable in this role and his performance had my eyes welling up a few times. Scarlett Johansson plays Kelly, the feisty zoo keeper, very well. I get the feeling the determination and passion she portrays in the role are drawn from her own personality. Two of my favourite performances came from Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who plays Benjamin’s daughter and Thomas Haden Church, who plays his brother. Maggie Elizabeth Jones is adorable. The look she gives Benjamin which seemingly makes his decision to try and buy the zoo reminded me so much of my own little, curly, haired monkey that I felt I could relate to this moment of wanting to provide for his child. I’m not sure it would tip me into buying a zoo but it certainly wins him five more minutes on the swings! For me Thomas Haden Church stole the film. He gave the funniest performance, while being natural, unlike some of the other comedy moments in the film and he also showed genuine sincerity at other times. He alone made me feel that this was an A-list film and his performance inspired adventure and allowed me to indulge in the rare experience these days, of going to see a film with a friend.

There were some scenes that were played for laughs that I felt jarred with the feel of the rest of the film and I also felt there were some moments that were overly cheesy and unbelievable. Unfortunately these came towards the end, which distanced me from the part of the story that I should have felt the most engaged with. However, I was left with watery eyes after the final scene when Damon’s acting was accompanied by Ford’s narration again for a lovely ending.

All in all I would summarise We Bought a Zoo as a nice, feel good, family film. I would happily rent it and watch it again with hubby, curled up on the sofa, but if I’m absolutely honest I don’t think I will be rushing him to the cinema next week to watch it. This is mainly because it’s not our usual choice of film but I do have a couple of friends who I think would love it. The friend who I took with me said she “rather enjoyed it”. One thing I would say is, if you’re thinking of watching it but are one of those people who illegally downloads films, read The Telegraph article I mentioned above to see who it is you are stealing from by not paying for the privilege of being entertained.

To find out more about We Bought a Zoo you can visit their Facebook page and if you go and see it, let me know what you think!



I am a Member of the Mumsnet Blogging Network, a group of parent bloggers picked by Mumsnet to review products, services, events and brands. I have not paid for a product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity.