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I like the animals. I love the people.


We Bought a Zoo
(2011)

A film for anyone who didn't think Cameron Crowe could become any more relentlessly upbeat, or who thinks that any given scene needs its emotional tone rammed down your throat by the most obvious musical cues imaginable.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the subject matter (widower takes a flying leap into the unknown as a fresh start, his young family in tow) Crowe maintains a breezy grip on proceedings that doesn't falter even in the most contrived of emotionally wrenching moments. That's the problem, really. It may be able to boast "based on a true story" but the whole set up rings hollow, and plays out like Fierce Creatures but without the laughs (provided you think there were any in Cleese's film).

Even the nasty people have soft centres, and everyone articulates their angst in essays rather than with any air of naturalism. Damon takes on a dad role believably, although you expect the worst from the opening montage declaring how daredevil a journalist he is (even within the artificiality of the scenario and its resolution, I'm unconvinced that his character has a chance of keeping the zoo afloat). Scarlett Johnansson failed to convince me as an expert zookeeper, but she does have an alluring presence. And while the most irritating device of having children spout preternatural wisdom is employed for Damon's precocious younger child, Crowe's on firmer ground with the teenage angst of the older. Solid support from Thomas Hayden Church as the dependably conservative brother, one of the ubiquitous Fannings as a young keeper and Crowe discovery Patrick Fugit as another keeper.

Lip service is paid to argument against keeping animals in cages, but the approach as a whole is determinedly "Aren't they cute? Even the ones that kill". Perhaps because it's such cinematic confectionary, I found it hard to dislike, but I concluded that Crowe has become the US's Richard Curtis.

**

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