Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

We Bought a Zoo


In 2006 the Benjamin Mee family bought the Dartmoor Zoological Park in Devon, England for about a million pounds. When they had it back on its feet (or hooves, or paws), Mee wrote a memoir about it and sold the film rights. The producers decided to move the story to California, the first of a series of mistakes that turned what might have been a real delight into a pretty routine and forgettable story. Not that the move was crucial; it still could have worked in California. But they weren’t through. Ben’s wife was part of the story (she has later died) and his children were 4 and 6. So why not change it so that Ben and the teenage son are grieving for his dead wife, and the kids are 6 and 14? I’ll tell you why, because it mucks up the magic with a standard and boring story of a pissed-off teen acting out—and pissed-off teens acting out are a very hard sell for me. And even Matt Damon can’t really redeem this maudlin material. What I wanted to see was more joy. I mean, they bought a frickin’ zoo! How much fun could thatbe for a 4-and a 6-year-old? I wanted to see more of the animals; here were get another tired story of an old tiger that Ben refuses to put down. Sheesh, you got a family who know nothing about animals trying to run a zoo? The opportunities for funny scenes are endless. Sure, that have to struggle to make it work, but that’s all the conflict we really need. How much better to have seen the family pulling together along with the faithful staff, and have the emotional triumph come from that, rather than the eventual (and inevitable) return of the asshole kid to the ranks of humanity?