The care of exotic pets can’t be learned from books, in spite of Benjamin Mee’s (Matt Damon, center) effort to perform so. Come his farming frustration — and the tolerant amusement the zookeepers Robin Jones (Patrick Fugit) and Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson) — poor Benjamin keeps revealing his ignorance. And also so he begins to wonder: have the right to willingness and hard work ever be enough? Courtesy photo

‘We to buy a Zoo’

Four stars

Starring: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, cutting board Haden Church, Elle Fanning, Patrick Fugit, Colin Ford, Maggie Elizabeth Jones

Rating: PG, for no details reason

Writer/director Cameron Crowe, lacking from the display for far too long, has returned through the season’s sweetest, gentlest family members film.

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“We to buy a Zoo” is adjusted from reporter Benjamin Mee’s engaging 2008 memoir, which boasts the much much more irresistible title of “We purchase a Zoo: The remarkable True Story of a Young Family, a damaged Down Zoo, and also the 200 Wild pets that change Their lives Forever.”

The setting has shifted from brother Devonshire come the California countryside, and the Mee family has to be compressed a bit, however Crowe has retained the saga’s crucial plot points and — many of all — its heart.

Thanks come an engaging ensemble cast of misfits, eccentrics and one very adorable child — together with Crowe’s constantly excellent ear for dialogue — the an outcome is an easygoing, crowd-pleasing charmer.

Benjamin (Matt Damon) introduces himself, via a voice-over montage, as a veteran Los Angeles newspaper reporter v a thrill for adventure and the skill to finesse a story from reluctant and also dangerous subjects. Unfortunately, nothing can have all set him because that the biggest adventure the all: functioning together a single parent in the wake of his mam Katherine’s untimely death … tho a raw, recent wound together this film begins.

This tragedy has actually left the family at forlorn loosened ends, through Benjamin wonder — top top a everyday basis — if he’s doing anything right. Seven-year-old Rosie (the beguiling Maggie Elizabeth Jones), wise beyond her years, points out that he hasn’t shed his hair like some of her classmates’ fathers. She go this while carefully making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because that the next day’s college lunches: one of many details the Benjamin invariably overlooks during early-morning chaos.

Fourteen-year-old Dylan, alas, is a various story. He is an angry, withdrawn boy whose creative talent leans towards shocking depictions of gory decapitations. He likewise has been expelled native school, which gives Benjamin one excuse to effort the impossible: eradicate Katherine’s storage entirely, by relocating to someplace wherein he i will not ~ be surrounding by consistent reminders of your giddily happy time together.

Benjamin and also Rosie subsequently take a house-hunting excursion with a newly minted Realtor (J.B. Smoove) that nervously wears his inexperience ~ above his sleeve, yet nonetheless has actually his love in the right place. He therefore advises caution as soon as Rosie, paging through scores that listings that aren’t quite right, sets her heart ~ above a rustic home surrounded through 18 acres of California countryside (actually thousands Oaks), nine miles native the nearest store.

There’s a catch, and also a huge one: The residence comes attached to the dilapidated Rosemoor animal Park, finish with scores the exotic animals and also a dedicated but long-unpaid staff.

Overlooking his finish ignorance the zoo tending, seeing only the opportunity of a genuinely fresh start that could restore their family members spirit, Benjamin to buy the property. This plot of folly prompts much eye-rolling indigenous Benjamin’s invariably pained and also grumpy older brother, Duncan (Thomas Haden Church), who fairly reasonably points out that together an endeavor is a bottomless money pit. Benjamin couldn’t care less.

Duncan gets numerous of the film’s ideal lines from Crowe and also co-scripter Aline Brosh McKenna (“The devil Wears Prada,” “27 Dresses”); Church, with his dry delivery and also hilariously hangdog features, go ample justice come every word.

Learning just how to care for every little thing from tigers and also bears to peacocks and snakes is complicated enough, but Benjamin additionally faces the wary misgivings of staff members who’ve viewed previous owner come through bright smiles and also then flee as the receipt came putting in.

The crew is an ext or much less led through head zookeeper Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson), a committed animal lover that has set her an individual life aside in order to organize Rosemoor together. She’s helped by craftsman/handyman Robin Jones (Patrick Fugit, well remembered together Crowe’s alter-ego in 2000’s “Almost Famous”), never seen there is no his beloved capuchin monkey, Crystal, perched on his shoulder.

Elle Fanning, who impressed the people with her solid work-related in summer’s “Super 8,” provides an equally strong impression right here as Lily, Kelly’s bubbly, enthusiastic young cousin. As a born and bred “country girl” whose suffer thus much has been confined to four-legged animals, Lily regards Dylan together an exotic “city boy” that must be worth her time. She thus starts attract makeup and tries come flirt v him, but she doesn’t know how, never having had actually a like before.

It’s one engaging, sensitive performance, every the an ext so due to the fact that the sullen Dylan scarcely notices her. Except … the sorta does.

Young Jones, though, is the film’s standout, stealing every scene. Ns reminded of the equally charming and also irrepressible performance the Crowe attracted from little Jonathan Lipnicki, in 1996’s “Jerry Maguire”; Crowe definitely has a flair for directing children.

Crowe and also McKenna deftly and quite impressively save all this narrative plates spinning: Lily’s unrequited to like on Dylan; Kelly’s desire to to trust Benjamin, in spite of too numerous previous disappointments; Dylan’s hostility toward his father; Duncan’s mounting shock over his younger brother’s wholly impractical Hail Mary plan for family members salvation.

Not to cite the two main plot points, of course: Benjamin’s increasingly stubborn determination to do a walk of this endeavor, in spite of the always intimidating finding out curve; and his agonized initiative to pertained to terms through Katherine’s absence. These 2 parallel storylines mesh cleverly via Spar, the zoo’s 17-year-old tiger. At together an advanced age, he requirements to be eased indigenous his pain: an act of kindness the Benjamin, as owner, can’t bring himself to authorize … lot to Kelly’s farming anguish.

Although the movie is laden with emotional crises big and small, Damon shoulders the lion’s share; the persuasively portrays Benjamin’s virtually crippling sorrow. The knows the he needs to relocate on, can’t quite bring himself to perform so, climate gets angry over this inability.

Johansson, minimizing the smolder she normally radiates, imbues Kelly with both wisdom and the sensitivity come dispense the carefully. We naturally assume an attraction in between Benjamin and Kelly — how have the right to one not, with Damon and also Johansson on the screen? — but while there’s certainly an undercurrent, Crowe astutely refuses come let this overwhelm the story.

Fish-out-of-water stories space appealing to begin with; as soon as they’re excellent cleverly, v appealing characters — together is the case here — the an outcome is as irresistible as little Jones’ performance together Rosie. Crowe’s film is sensitive, delightful and droll by turns: a truly winning combination.

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And an equally tempting invitation to seek out and read Mee’s book.

— Read an ext of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at derrickbang.blogspot.com. Talk about this evaluation at www.dearteassociazione.org