I suppose my own “sneak peek” at the new movie titled “We Bought a Zoo” took place in 2008, when I bought the book it’s based on for my son Christopher, a longtime volunteer with the Phoenix Zoo. It’s authored by former newspaper columnist Benjamin Mee, portrayed in the film by Matt Damon.
I couldn’t make Saturday night’s “sneak peek” of the film, which opens on Dec. 23, but my daughter saw the movie at an NYC theater in Union Square – then called home afterwards to tell me all about it. She saw “The Descendants” earlier in the day, but gave “We Bought a Zoo” much higher marks.
“Kids will like seeing the animals,” Lizabeth told me, “but they won’t get the depth.” Seems the story has as much to do with repairing broken lives as refurbishing a dilapidated zoo. Mee and his two children pour themselves into the zoo project after Mee’s wife dies. “It’s really about learning to let go,” shared Lizabeth. “It’s about accepting help and letting other people in.”
Lizabeth praised the acting throughout, noting that “there isn’t a weak link in the cast.” She describes Elle Fanning’s performance as “fantastic” and says that young actress Maggie Elizabeth Jones has “amazing talent.” Fanning plays Lily Miska, a young assistant to the zookeeper, and Jones plays Mee’s daughter Rosie.
Mee’s son, Dylan Mee, is played by Colin Ford. Mee’s brother, Duncan Mee, by Thomas Haden Church. Rounding out the family, for a time, is Stepanie Szustak as mother Katherine Mee. Scarlett Johansson is zookeeper Kelly Foster, who bemoans the fact that Benjamin Mee is slow to master the fine art of talking just right to the animals.
It sounds like the son and daughter fare no better during their attempts to get along “They have a strained relationship,” Lizabeth told me. “But you don’t find out why until near the end of the movie.” It can’t help, I suppose, that the son has trouble fitting in at school – a fact that’s illustrated during a classroom scene featuring student artwork. The son’s work sounds unconventional at best.
The chemistry between father and daughter is especially sweet, according to Lizabeth. She describes Rosie as “blunt” and tells me she gets some of the best lines in the movie. The screenplay was written by Cameran Crowe, who also directs the film, and Aline Brosh McKenna. “It’s great writing,” shares Lizabeth.
One word of caution to parents – the film does contain some mild adult language and one slang term for a body part that most of us wish our daughters would abstain from using well into their 40s. Still, it’s really the final two words of the film, both squeaky clean, that are the “most powerful.”
“The movie has a lot of heart and humor,” says Lizabeth. “It’s an all-around fantastic film.”
Coming up: Elvis is in the buildings
Update: More sneak peeks coming on Dec. 10. Click here for a list of Valley theaters with 7pm shows tonight. 12/10/11