Family Drama, 124 Minutes, 2011
Benjamin has recently lost his wife, the love of his life, to illness. Dylan, his teenage son, is a moody, artistic teenager who’s pulling away from him and having trouble at school. Rosie, his seven-year old daughter, is insanely cute, totally precocious and straight from the Hollywood breeding tanks. When Dylan is expelled the family decides to try for a new start and, almost accidentally, falls into buying a run-down zoo on the verge of losing its license.
It’s populated, as is custom, with an eccentric collection of zookeepers and animals. Oh, there’s also an incredibly hot zookeeper that – surprisingly! – hits it off very well with the handsome new owner. This group must work together and overcome the odds to bring the zoo up to code for a grand reopening. People learn about themselves, face their fears and the little girl does many cute things. In the end everybody is better off for the experience.
The plot is paint-by-numbers, off-the-shelf, plain-vanilla cliché. The characters are cut straight from store-bought patterns. On paper it’s a mad-lib of a movie: change a noun here, add an adjective there and “poof!” brand new movie from a pre-canned story. Basically if you added some nudity and the word “Bikini” to the title you’d have the plot to about four dozen Cinemax flicks (although the zoo would probably be replaced with a ski lodge, car wash or a Taco Truck).
Luckily formula doesn’t always have to mean trite and uninspired. Often transcending formula only requires a little care. A little craft. The best stories, after all, are formulaic. First of all this is a very pretty movie. The cinematography has an undeniable charm that feels homey and comfortable. It puts you at ease quickly and keeps you there. Secondly the people are just damn nice. The fact that Matt Damon [IMDB] and Scarlett Johansson [IMDB] have spent most of their recent time on-screen beating the living shit out of people tends to hide the fact that they’re both incredibly likable actors. Thirdly, the movie keeps the required romantic elements to the bare minimum. We know they’re going to get together the moment we meet them so it’s refreshing not to be beaten over the head with it.
So sure, it’s clichéd, but dammit, I liked it. It’s light and, I’ll admit it, ultimately pretty meaningless, but it’s also very well done and very well acted. At the risk of pigeon holing it: it made me feel good. Sometimes that’s enough, isn’t it?