The Source for Parents

Movie Reviews
by Jonathan McKee

We Bought a Zoo (04/03/2012)

Rated PG for language and some thematic elements.

Directed by Cameron Crowe (Jerry McGuire, Say Anything…)

Starring Matt Damon, Scarlet Johansson and Elle Fanning

Jonathan's Rating: Worth Buying

From the writer who penned famous lines like “You had me at hello,” "You complete me," and “Show me the money”... and from the director who placed John Cusack outside “Diane Court’s” bedroom window holding a boom box playing Peter Gabriel's In Your Eyes… I’m talking about Cameron Crowe, and he’s back.

Cameron has made a handful of films since Jerry McGuire and Say Anything, but none of them have quite measured up to those classics. This year, Christmas is coming early, because on December 23rd, We Bought a Zoo hits the screen, and audiences are going to remember this one.

Set in Southern California, a father (Matt Damon) moves his young family to the countryside to renovate and re-open a struggling zoo. This heartwarming tale takes you on a journey of emotions. You’ll be laughing one moment, and grabbing a Kleenex the next.

Matt Damon proves his range as an actor, playing Benjamin Mee, the conflicted dad who wants to do what’s best for his kids, but struggles to let go of the painful loss of the love of his life—his wife.

“I thought if I came out here it would stop,” Benjamin confessed. “It just turns out that she’s here too! When you love someone that much, that hard, that long, you can never get away from them. I can not let her go!”

Damon nails the role of the imperfect single father trying to do what’s best, while dealing with the daily struggles life can dish out. Three minutes into the film you won’t even remember that this was Jason Bourne or Will Hunting. It’s just Benjamin Mee.

But Damon wasn’t the only one to play a distinctive role in their career. Scarlet Johansson plays a very plain, no-make-up, modestly dressed zoo-keeper. The whole cast was amazing when it comes down to it. You fall in love with the whole lot of them just minutes after meeting them, especially an amazing little child-actress by the name of Maggie Elisabeth Jones that is going to capture your heart the moment you see her.

Parents will love the film. As Damon’s character Mee struggles to connect with his teenage son, the adolescent finally screams at him, “You never ask me how I’m doing! You never taught me how to shave.”

As the teen stomps into his room and slams the door, Mee responds, “I’d love to teach you how to shave. Let’s shave!”

But the big question that everyone keeps asking Benjamin Mee is, “Why would you move your family out to the sticks and buy a zoo?”

Mee’s response… “Why not?”

This is the first Cameron Crowe film to achieve a mere PG rating. It’s not that Crowe is usually fowl or gratuitous in any way, it’s just that his films have dealt with mature issues. Some critics might even be skeptical of We Bought a Zoo with its PG rating, wondering if Crowe has stooped to make a silly children’s film. Nothing could be further from the truth. We Bought a Zoo packs the same authenticity and reality as his earlier films, but with only a few curse words that earned it a mere PG rating. I would recommend it to anyone without hesitation.

I loved it. I'll be taking my entire family to see this one. I give it my highest score, WORTH BUYING.

On December 23rd you should load up the entire family in the car and see this one in the theater. As Benjamin Mee says. “Why not?”

Yes, no hesitation. The movie earned a PG rating for a handful of curse words (You’ll hear the word “sh*t” a couple times, someone calls someone a “d**k” once). This film is as wholesome as it gets, with some great themes to talk about... which brings us to our Three Simple Questions ("Quick Q's")...

Conversation Starter
Three Simple Questions (with Answers You May Be Looking for):

Q: What’s the message/theme of this movie?

A: This movie is all about letting go of painful memories and moving forward. But the movie also deals with our relationships with those around us as we face life’s difficulties.

Q: How do you suppose we—as serious Christ-followers—should react to this movie?
A: The movie has several elements that might catalyst discussion. One of those elements is the relationship between the father and son. Both are struggling with the loss of “Mommy,” and it’s beginning to hurt their relationship with each other. The son begins acting out and the father doesn’t know whether to discipline him, or let these episodes go. The son perceives his father’s reaction as ignoring him and not caring. That’s why he yells at his dad, “You never ask me how I’m doing!”

    How is your relationship with your kids/parents?

    In one scene, when the father and son aren’t communicating well, the dad suggests, “Why don’t we just tell each other what we want the other guy to say.” Try that little exercise with each other right now.

    What did you hear?

    What can you learn from what you heard?

Q: How can we move from healthy, Bible-based opinions about this movie to actually living out those opinions?
A: Maybe you’ve heard Paul’s wisdom about love in his first letter we have of his to the Corinthians:

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

    What are some of the descriptors he uses to describe this Christ-like love?

    Which is one that is difficult for you to do?

    What is something you could do this week to better love your kid/parents?

Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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