Movie review: We Bought a Zoo

From the December 27, 2011 edition

“We Bought a Zoo” is a movie for the entire family. And therein lies the problem.

Director Cameron Crowe delivers a saccharine-sweet ode to sentimentality that plays a bit too much like a Hallmark movie for a man of his talents.

Following the death of his wife, Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is left raising his two kids, rebellious early teen Dylan (Colin Ford) and kid sister Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones).

Looking to start over after their mother’s death, Benjamin looks to relocate the family from their L.A. home. He finds the perfect place … only it turns out it’s actually a failed zoo!

No one can accuse this movie of being anything but earnest. It oozes earnestness. You’ll get earnestness all over your popcorn.

But Crowe tries to shoehorn a little of everything into this story — parenthood, small-business struggles, a menagerie of animals and even parallel romantic interests for the father and son. The material is alternately tear-jerking and eye-rolling.

Damon is actually perfect for this stuff, genuine and charming. Scarlett Johansen is less suited for her role as zookeeper.

There are moments that play too much to the grown-ups and moments that play too much to the kids. There’s a little something for everyone … to a fault.