We Bought a Zoo Blu-ray delivers stunningly beautiful video and superb audio in this fan-pleasing Blu-ray release
Based on a true story, Benjamin Mee is a recently-widowed father who moves his family to a beautiful estate miles outside the city. The only catch is that the estate is also a dilapidated zoo replete with 200 animals, and the purchase of the home is conditional on the new owner keeping the zoo and its entire staff. The Mee family subsequently sets out to rebuild and refurbish the zoo to its former glory, making new friends along the way.
For more about We Bought a Zoo and the We Bought a Zoo Blu-ray release, see We Bought a Zoo Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on April 5, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
We Bought a Zoo joins Snakes on a Plane and Hobo with a Shotgun in the small cadre of films whose titles tell you just about
everything you need to know. Nobody's ever going to ask, "We Bought a Zoo, eh? What's that one about?" A zoo is indeed bought and
renovated and reopened, the process of which helps the family that did the buying overcome their grief and draw closer to one another. It's genial,
heartwarming fare from director Cameron Crowe, who based the film on a memoir by Benjamin Mee, owner of the Dartmoor Zoological Park in Devon,
England. Crowe is no stranger to unabashedly sentimental material--his filmography includes latter-day romantic classics like Say Anything
and Jerry Maguire--but his carefully manicured sincerity can sometimes get the best of him. Case in point, Crowe's last feature, 2005's dippy
and nigh-unwatchable Elizabethtown, an unintentional self-parody of most of his directorial trademarks, like his predilection for soundtrack
selections that are a bit too emotionally pitch-perfect. We Bought a Zoo is better--a small step back in the right direction--although it
sometimes gets bogged down in similar pitfalls. It's too tidy, too risk-averse, too faux-inspirational. For a film that features lions and tigers and bears, it
has no bite, and not even much growl.
He bought a zoo.
Crowe shifts the action from dreary old England to sunny California, where Benjamin Mee--played by Matt Damon--is a journalist specializing in
"adventure" stories. He's the guy who's usually off interviewing South American dictators or flying into the eye of a hurricane on a C-130, but lately
he's been handed a series of unexpected mid-life crises. His wife died six months ago, newspaper cutbacks are looming, and he's not adjusting well to
being a widowed dad, struggling to singlehandedly raise precocious 7-year-old Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and her brooding pre-teen brother Dylan
(Colin Ford), who's just been expelled from school for stealing money and drawing an exceptionally graphic wall mural. So, Mee does what any
father of two would do in the middle of a recession--he quits his job with nary a thought, puts their house on the market, and decides to start over.
(I'm not sure that I completely buy that one.) He asks his realtor--Curb Your Enthusiasm's J.B. Smoove in a bit part--to find him a house out
in the country with a big backyard, but he doesn't expect to be shown a charmingly rundown two-story on the grounds of a recently condemned zoo.
"There are," the realtor says, "complications." Rosie's eyes light up at the thought of living there, though, and that seals the deal for Mee, who buys
the house and the zoo with the previous owner's proviso that he take care of the animals and try to re-open the place.
This, of course, is easier said than done. Mee knows nothing about the day-to-day operation of a zoo, but he's committed to getting the newly
rebranded Rosemore Animal Park Adventure up and running by the start of summer. Opposing his efforts is the hardass zoo inspector Walter Ferris
(John Michael Higgins), who carries around a comically phallic tape measurer and gives Mee a to-do list a mile long. Mee's accountant brother--the
perpetual grump Thomas Hayden Church--doesn't think the zoo's bankbook can take the strain, but our dad-with-a-dream presses on. He's got some
help from a motley skeleton crew of stragglers who've been hanging around the zoo out of sheer dedication since it closed. There's a dude in a kilt
(Angus MacFadyen), who designed the innovative animal enclosures, another dude who's never seen without a monkey on his shoulder--Almost
Famous' Patrick Fugit as, essentially, and older version of Almost Famous' Patrick Fugit--and a third dude, a grunt-work crap shoveler,
who looks like Jack Black after an unshaven year on a deserted island. They're (under)used solely for kookiness.
The only one with any real bearing on the story is former zookeeper Kelly Foster, played by Scarlet Johansson, who's as winsome as ever, even as she
strikes a mannish, tough-as-nails pose with her arms crossed and legs apart, wearing little-to-no makeup. Kelly is understandably wary about Mee's
leadership abilities, but she gradually develops loin-stirring feeling for her boss, who's too preoccupied with missing his dead wife to notice. This is
treacly territory, and Crowe is a bit overindulgent with an embarrassingly maudlin scene of Mee going through old photos, imaging his wife
dancing through the sunlight in front of him. I give the director credit, at least, for letting the inevitable relationship between Mee and Kelly develop
slowly and mostly organically. Crowe's also wise not to make their burgeoning love the nexus of the story. This is no rom-com.
It's more of a fam-com. Like The Descendants, We Bought a Zoo is really about family, specifically, a father trying to get over his grief
and reconnect with his kids. And like his Ocean's Eleven costar, George Clooney--The Descendants' own sad dad--Matt Damon is
cast as a stricken, directionless father who so wants a fresh start for his family that he's blind to what they really need. Wide-eyed Rosie is really just
here to look cute, so Mee's primary concern is Dylan, who's mad about moving, blind to the affections of 13-year-old homeschooler Lily (Elle Fanning),
Kelly's cousin, and still making his morbid art. ("If Charles Manson needed a personal muralist," Mee says, "you'd be the guy.") It should come as no
surprise that they're all one big happy bunch by the end--Mee and his bro presiding over the zoo from a lookout tower with grins on their faces, Dylan
penning tasteful tiger drawings, and Rosie all dolled up in a junior zookeeper's uniform.
Crowe's problem, as usual, is that he desperately wants us to feel every second of the film, relying on his usual soundtrack tricks to handily
supply us with every appropriate emotion. Along with a jubilantly twee score by "Jónsi" Birgisson, the lead singer/composer for Icelandic post-rock
quartet Sigur Rós, Crowe taps several of his favorite alt-rock artists to do the tonal heavy-lifting, from Pearl Jam to Bob Dylan, Neil Young to Bon Iver to
Tom Petty. Watching the film is a bit like listening to a mix-tape with the tape's creator hovering over you, making sure you "get" the vibe of each
song. It comes across as a little forced and it has a tendency to overwhelm the storytelling. Ultimately, the "adventure"--Mee's word, not mine--of the
film is passably entertaining but too safe to be truly moving. Crowe glosses over real heartbreak and loss and pain in favor of a more comfortable,
populist tone, which makes his attempts at big grin-inducing and/or tear-jerking moments seem unearned. Still, there's definitely a market for feel-
good movies that aren't emotionally challenging, and I suspect We Bought a Zoo will go over well with families looking for some stress-free,
New releases from 20th Century Fox almost always arrive on Blu-ray in tip-top shape, and We Bought a Zoo is certainly no exception. Simply
put, the film's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer looks gorgeous, and I can't find any real fault in its presentation. Zoo was shot on 35mm by famed
cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain, 21 Grams, Lust, Caution), and the image looks perfectly natural here,
with no signs of edge enhancement or noise reduction, and a fine grain structure that gives some subtle texture to the picture without ever being
obtrusive. The level of clarity is consistently excellent, revealing fine facial and clothing details in all in-focus areas of the screen. Where Prieto's work
really shines, though--quite literally--is in the quality of the lighting and the warm, sun-drenched California mood of the film's color palette. Highlights
takes on a creamy yellow cast, skies are a soft blue, and grass is a lush summery green. Skin-tones, black levels, contrast--it's all spot-on. And as you'd
hope and expect, there are no compression issues to spoil the fun, with the transfer sitting with plenty of room on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc.
For a film that, action-wise, is fairly low-key, We Bought a Zoo's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is no slouch, with a mix that's
clear, dynamically solid, and surprisingly engaging. The bulk of the activity occurs in the front speakers, but the rears frequently build up the illusion that
we're sitting on set, broadcasting quiet but convincing outdoor ambience--wind, rain, the obvious animal noises--and even slipping in the occasional
cross-channel effect. Of course, this being a Cameron Crowe movie, you'll also be hearing almost non-stop music, from Jónsi's airy, upbeat score to the
numerous pop/rock cues. All of it sounds wonderful, especially if you crank the volume a bit and give the mix some room-filling freedom. Cutting through
all of this cleanly, dialogue is always crisp and easy to understand. The disc includes optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles, along with French and
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs and a 5.1 Descriptive Audio track. Families with smaller children will be glad to know there's also a Dove.org-approved
Dolby Digital 5.1 Family-Friendly audio mix, which omits the film's few swear words.
Audio Commentary: Director Cameron Crowe, editor Mark Livolsi, and actor JB Smoove join forces to chat about the film. Smoove is
in the movie for maybe five minutes tops, so it's kind of weird that he's here, but he certainly livens up what would otherwise be a fairly dry track. I
certainly learned more than I needed to about Smoove's lovemaking habits, which involve falconry and beekeeping roleplay. Can't make this stuff up. Oh
yeah, and there are the usual "making-of" style comments too.
Deleted & Extended Scenes (1080p, 37:27): A whopping twenty deleted or extended scenes, which makes sense, as in the
commentary Crowe discusses how there were actually several different cuts of the film before they settled on the current version.
We Shot a Zoo (1080p, 1:15:52): A truly comprehensive five-part making-of documentary, covering just about every element of
production and featuring interviews with everyone involved.
Their Happy Is Too Loud (1080p, 17:29): A special piece devoted to the creation and recording of the score, by Sigur Ros frontman, Jonsi.
The Real Mee (1080p, 28:35): The real Benjamin Mee discusses the history of the zoo and how he came to purchase and run it.
Gag Reel (1080p, 6:57): Whaddaya know, even the gag reel is set to inspirational Jonsi music.
Photo Gallery (1080p): Stills by photographer Neal Preston.
A gorgeous Blu-ray presentation, a so-so film. In a number of ways, We Bought a Zoo is strikingly similar to The Descendants; both are
feel-good dramatic comedies about grief-stricken, mid-life-crisis-having dads finding new purpose and familial togetherness after the death of their wives.
Zoo is the lesser of the two films--it plays it a bit too safe--but I can see it being mildly enjoyed by one-and-all on family movie nights. So pop
some popcorn, get out the blankets, and settle in for some warm fuzzies--just don't expect much more.
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Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment will bring We Bought a Zoo to Blu-ray in April. Directed by Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire), this dramedy stars Academy Award-winner Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) as a widower who buys the Rosemoor Animal Park in order to ...