(Feel-good movie of the year)
If you want to lift up your spirits as we end a dismal 2011, go see "We Bought a Zoo."
Matt Damon stars as Benjamin Mee, a loving husband whose wife has died, leaving him with a bitter 15-year-old son (Colin Ford) and a cute-as-a-button 7-year-old daughter (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). Benjamin quits his job and searches for a new house in a different neighborhood, trying to start anew. He ends up buying the rundown, closed Rosemore Animal Park, much to the delight of his daughter and displeasure of his son, who sits around all day drawing grotesque figures.
Benjamin pours his life's savings into getting the zoo up to code so that the mean old zoo inspector will allow it to open in the spring. His motley crew is led by Kelly, the pretty zookeeper (Scarlett Johansson). They work tirelessly, facing many obstacles, to get the property back in shape.
"We Bought a Zoo" is much more than an animal story, although the animals are a real highlight, especially for the kids in the audience. The movie deals with the death of a loved one and how her children and husband cope with the loss. There is also an interesting side story about teenage love, as one of the helpers has a crush on the withdrawn Dylan. The most touching moments come as father and son try to reconnect and repair a difficult relationship.
There are great performances by the young ones, especially Maggie Elizabeth Jones, whose reactions to everything are as cute and realistic as could be.
Do they get the zoo to pass inspection and open on time? What do you think?
In spite of a bit of corn, "We Bought a Zoo" is a wonderful little movie that will make you laugh, cheer and maybe even cry. The story is loosely based on the real Mee family, who can be seen at the zoo opening, and the real Dartmoor Animal Park in England.
Rated PG, with absolutely nothing to stop you from making this a family outing.