DOES ANYONE KNOW what happened to Cameron Crowe? Was he struck by lightning? Did he join a cult? Did he get touched, or something? Crowe's films have always had a healthy dose of sentiment, to be sure, but he's never done anything as mushy, gushy, and flat-out icky as We Bought a Zoo. It's his adaptation of a British zookeeper's memoir, but it's the same kind of manipulative, "based-on-a-true-story" barf as Patch Adams.
After the death of his wife, Benjamin (Matt Damon) buys a house in the country where he and his two kiddies can start over, because they are all very, very sad. The older kid is a mopey artist who draws mopey pictures, and the younger is a kind of impossibly adorable alien-thing that spouts wise, Confucius-like sayings at just the right time. The kids are sad, but Benjamin is saddest of all. We watch him gaze, sadly, at the photos of his dead wife on his laptop, as Crowe transforms the scene into a MacBook ad, lovingly letting the camera linger over each of those handsome Apple icons.
The new house comes with a zoo. And the zoo comes with a bunch of animals, plus a full staff led by Scarlett Johansson, plus—for some fucking reason—a British-style pub where everyone hangs out at the end of the workday. Benjamin and the zoo gang all scramble to get the zoo ready for an inspection before the grand reopening. Meanwhile, Crowe burns up millions of dollars on the rights to snippets of very famous pop songs, lazily using them as cinematic shorthand to tweak sentiment. We Bought a Zoo strives to be feel good, but it ends up like being felt up by a creepy relative. That creepy relative is you, Crowe, and you've ruined Christmas.