Sunday, May 6, 2012

We Bought a Zoo on Blu-ray

From FOX Studios comes Cameron Crowe's (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous) latest film, We Bought a Zoo. Based on a true story, the movie finds widower Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity, 30 Rock) needing to make a change. While house hunting, he finds his dream dwelling comes with a closed-down, but still populated, zoo attached, and decides that this might be just the adventure he needs. Together with his two children and the zoo's colorful staff, Benjamin sets out to make the zoo, and his life, mean something again.

We Bought a Zoo is not Crowe's best work, but then, who expects it to be, considering some of the masterpieces the director has made? However, We Bought a Zoo is still damn good. It proves that Crowe still knows how to coax incredible, authentic performances out of his actors. He can still tug a heart string. He develops wonderful visuals, but never forgets that the story is about the characters.

Damon is brilliant in the lead role. He captures the struggle of a father, raising two kids on his own, one of whom he has trouble connecting with because they are too much alike. He also breathes Mee's mission to life with such zeal, that one is left hanging on his every move, rooting for him to succeed, hoping he can find hope and joy in his life again.

We Bought a Zoo is buoyed by an excellent ensemble cast, and that's not just referencing the beautiful animals. Maggie Elizabeth Jones (Footloose) is adorable as Mee's daughter. Thomas Haden Church (Sideways, Wings) brings a realism to Benjamin's brother, who wants to be supportive, but thinks his sibling is off of his rocker. And then there's J.B. Smoove (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Carla Gallo (Bones, Californication), John Michael Higgins (Bad Teacher, Happily Divorced), Angus Macfadyen (Chuck, Braveheart), Elle Fanning (Super 8), Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous), and Colin Ford (Push, Supernatural), all of whom bring something special to the table. The chemistry between them, and the unique make up of each player, really makes this movie sing in an exciting, interesting way.

Oddly, it's Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, The Avengers) that is wasted here. Stuck in a boring, predictable, romantic interest role, she gets lost among the others. This isn't because the actress is inferior in any way, but rather, more than anyone else, her presence seems to be there only to serve Benjamin's character. She doesn't have enough personality of her own to really stand out. In fact, Benjamin's relationship with a tiger actually serves the same purpose she does, with slightly more impact, so her part is extraneous. It's a shame, and the movie's only real weak point.

There are plenty of bonus features on the three disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy set. There's an audio commentary with Crowe, editor Mark Livolsi, and, weirdly, considering his small role in We Bought a Zoo, the hilarious J.B. Smoove. There are a ton of deleted and extended scenes. A half hour is devoted to the making of the picture, and there is a featurette about the real Benjamin Mee. There's also a gag reel, and more! One can literally spend more time watching the extras than the movie, and that's a nice claim to make. It helps, too, that what is present enriches the movie experience, and is really everything one might want in this release.

In short, We Bought a Zoo is a fantastic film that any movie lover should own. It's an inspiring story, a memorable tale, and just plain fun. Pick up a copy, on sale now.

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