We Bought a Zoo

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We Bought a Zoo
We Bought a Zoo Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Cameron Crowe
Produced by Julie Yorn
Cameron Crowe
Marc Gordon
Screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna
Cameron Crowe
Based on We Bought a Zoo 
by Benjamin Mee
Starring Matt Damon
Scarlett Johansson
Thomas Haden Church
Patrick Fugit
Elle Fanning
Colin Ford
John Michael Higgins
Music by Jónsi
Cinematography Rodrigo Prieto
Editing by Mark Livolsi
Studio Vinyl Films
LBI Entertainment
Dune Entertainment
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • December 23, 2011 (2011-12-23)
Running time 124 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $50 million[1]
Box office $120,081,841[2]

We Bought a Zoo is a 2011 comedy-drama/family film based on the 2008 memoir of the same name by Benjamin Mee. The film is directed by Cameron Crowe, and stars Matt Damon as the lead character. It tells the story of Mee and his family who purchase a dilapidated zoo and take on the challenge of preparing the zoo for its reopening to the public.

We Bought a Zoo was released in the United States on December 23, 2011.[3] The film received mixed-to-positive reception from film critics, but still grossed a total of $120 million.


Recently widowed Benjamin "Ben" Mee (Matt Damon), still grieving his loss and dealing with school behavior issues and the expulsion of his 14-year-old son Dylan (Colin Ford), decides to get a fresh start by buying a new house. After touring many houses with his 7-year old daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and his realtor, Mr. Stevens (J.B. Smoove), and finding none to his liking, his daughter finds a paper with what seems like his perfect house. They drive up to a beautiful old large house and Ben inspects the property, telling his realtor it's the perfect home. As he tries to explain that the situation is "complicated", they hear a lion roar outside. The realtor explains that the house comes with a zoo at the back and, if they want the house, they have to buy the zoo which closed to the public several years before.

Although reluctant to take on a zoo and all of its animals, he decides to give it a try when he sees how happy Rosie is playing with the peacocks. Dylan, however, hates the idea of moving away from his friends, retreating into his artwork which has grown more macabre since the death of his mother. Ben's brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church) tries to dissuade him from purchasing the property, but Ben buys it anyway. The zoo staff, led by the 28-year old head keeper Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson), help Ben to start renovating the zoo with the intent to reopen it to the public. When Kelly confronts Ben about why he bought a zoo, knowing nothing about how to run one, Ben thinks about it and responds "Why not?". Dylan befriends Kelly's 13-year old homeschooled cousin Lily Miska (Elle Fanning) who works at the zoo and has a huge crush on him, to which he is completely oblivious.

A strict USDA inspector, Walt Ferris (John Michael Higgins), shows up for a surprise inspection and makes a large list of repairs that would cost around $100,000. Ben runs into financial trouble with the expenses of running the zoo and does not have the money for the repairs. Rhonda Blair (Carla Gallo) the zoo worker that handles the accounting, gossips to the other workers that Ben is out of money and that he will probably sell the zoo; after which the workers' morale sinks, fearing the property will be sold to a buyer that will close it down. When Lily tells Dylan that she heard his family might be leaving, he is overjoyed, which hurts her feelings. Ben discovers that his wife bequeathed him an investment account, with instructions to use the money wisely while listening to his heart. Duncan advises him to walk away and start over with the money, but Ben decides to use the money to repair the zoo. While this lifts the zoo workers' morale, Dylan is unhappy about having to stay; he confronts his father, and a heated argument ensues. They reconcile the next morning, and Dylan admits he misses Lily. Ben gives his son advice using his favorite principle, that you only need 20 seconds of courage to achieve great things in order to reconcile with Lily. Ben realizes that instead of trying to start over by forgetting his wife, he should accept that she will always be a part of him.

Prior to the grand opening of the zoo, the facility passes a very stringent inspection from Ferris, who begrudgingly wishes them good luck. Dylan, following his father's advice, confesses to Lily that he loves her and she forgives him. The evening prior to the zoo's grand opening the worst rainstorm in 100 years is predicted to wash it out and, although the weather clears in time, they are disappointed the next morning when no visitors arrive, though they soon discover that a fallen tree has blocked the access road. Scrambling over the tree, they discovers a huge crowd of waiting visitors, who climb over the tree with the zoo staff's help, and pour into the zoo. So many people come to visit that they run out of tickets forcing Ben and Kelly to enter a shed to look for them, ending up face to face. Kelly admits to Ben that she has a crush on him but she "can't get a handle on it". She kisses him, telling him maybe they can do that again on New Year's Eve - Ben replies by kissing her, and telling her that he is looking forward to it.

Ben takes his children to the restaurant where he met their mother, explaining that it was the point where they became a "possibility". He takes them through that day's encounter, where Ben worked up the nerve to talk to his future wife with "20 seconds of courage", and walks up to the table she was at, visualizes her sitting there, then asks her why such an amazing woman would talk to someone like him. His wife responds "Why not?", echoing the reason Benjamin bought the zoo in the first place.


  • Matt Damon as Benjamin Mee, the father of Dylan and Rosie Mee and the owner of the zoo, who is trying to restart his life after his wife dies.[4]
  • Scarlett Johansson as Kelly Foster, the 28-year old lead zookeeper and long-time employee at Rosemoor Animal Park.
  • Thomas Haden Church as Duncan Mee,[5] Ben's older brother and an accountant.
  • Colin Ford as Dylan Mee,[6] Ben's 14-year old son, who is initially drawn to Lily and eventually develops feelings for her and has a rough relationship with his father.
  • Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Rosie Mee, Ben's 7-year old daughter, who is very curious about all of the animals in the zoo and thinks living at a zoo is a grand adventure.
  • Angus Macfadyen as Peter MacCreedy, the carpenter of the zoo who had made many innovative enclosures for the zoo, and he claims that his ideas were "stolen" by Walter Ferris. Because of this, he has a huge and violent grudge against Walter.
  • Elle Fanning as Lily Miska,[7] the 13-year old home-schooled cousin of Kelly and worker at the zoo's restaurant who lives within the zoo. Although she is too young to legally work, she is paid "under the table" out of her cousin's salary. She likes Dylan (who is at first unaware of this fact), but later gives up on her pursuit of a relationship with him after Dylan doesn't listen to her and unintentionally hurts her feelings. After he subsequently apologizes and tells her of his own feelings for her, she forgives him and they resume their friendship.
  • Patrick Fugit as Robin Jones; the zoo's craftsman and is Crystal the monkey's owner.[7]
  • John Michael Higgins as Walter "Walt" Ferris, a strict zoo inspector who earns the dislike of many people.
  • Carla Gallo as Rhonda Blair, the secretary and bookkeeper of the zoo.
  • J.B. Smoove as Mr. Stevens, the Mee family's real estate agent.
  • Stephanie Szostak as Katherine Mee, the deceased wife of Benjamin Mee.
  • Desi Lydic as Shea Seger, a woman with an obvious crush on Benjamin who always brings him lasagna.
  • Peter Riegert as Delbert McGinty, Benjamin's boss before he 'starts over'.
  • Michael Panes as the principal of Dylan and Rosie's school
  • Kym Whitley as Eve the Home Depot Clerk
  • Crystal the Monkey as Crystal the monkey
  • Bart/Tank as Buster, the grizzly bear.



In May 2010, Cameron Crowe agreed to direct the 20th Century Fox adaptation of Benjamin Mee's memoir We Bought a Zoo.[8] He then began rewriting the film's script, which was originally written by Aline Brosh McKenna.[8] This was the first film that was directed by Crowe since the 2005 film Elizabethtown.[8] The film was released on December 23, 2011.[8]


Crowe traveled to the set of the film True Grit to persuade actor Matt Damon to take on the role of the lead character in the film.[1] Crowe also presented a script of the film, a CD of songs that Crowe composed himself, and a copy of the 1983 film Local Hero, with instructions "to not just read the script and make a decision".[1] Damon was persuaded to play the role after he was moved by Crowe's music and found that Local Hero was a "masterpiece".[1] As for Crowe himself, he had already decided on Damon halfway through their meeting, though the distributor Fox still had a shortlist of candidates to play this role.[1]


We Bought a Zoo
Soundtrack album by Jónsi
Released December 9, 2011
Recorded 2011
Genre Ambient, alternative rock, soundtrack
Length 51:12
Label Columbia Records
Producer Mr POO

In August 2011, it was announced that Icelandic musician Jón Þór "Jónsi" Birgisson, the lead singer of the band Sigur Rós, would be composing the music scores for We Bought a Zoo.[9] Director Crowe described the choice as "only natural", since "Jónsi has been a part of the making of We Bought A Zoo from the very beginning".[9]

The song Gathering Stories was on the shortlist of 39 songs that have a chance of being nominated for Best Original Song Oscar at the 84th Academy Awards.[10] This song was co-written by Jonsi Birgisson and Cameron Crowe.[10]

While the official CD release of the movie soundtrack only includes music by Jón Þór "Jónsi" Birgisson and Sigur Rós,[11] the complete soundtrack of the film included a variety of artists.[12]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Artist(s) Length
1. "Why Not?"   Jónsi 4:49
2. "Ævin Endar"   Jónsi 3:32
3. "Boy Lilikoi"   Jónsi 4:29
4. "Sun"   Jónsi 1:50
5. "Brambles"   Jónsi 2:24
6. "Sinking Friendships"   Jónsi 4:42
7. "We Bought a Zoo"   Jónsi 4:21
8. "Hoppípolla"   Sigur Rós 4:30
9. "Snærisendar"   Jónsi 2:43
10. "Sink Ships"   Jónsi 2:21
11. "Go Do"   Jónsi 4:41
12. "Whole Made of Pieces"   Jónsi 2:47
13. "Humming"   Jónsi 2:33
14. "First Day"   Jónsi 1:40
15. "Gathering Stories"   Jónsi 3:56

Tracks not on soundtrack[edit]


Box office[edit]

We Bought a Zoo grossed a total of $2,984,875 on its opening day in the U.S. box office, making it the sixth highest grossing film that weekend.[2] It subsequently earned $14,604,645 in its first four days of screening. Overall, the film grossed $75,624,550 in North America and $37,764,426 internationally for a worldwide total of $113,388,976.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

The film has received mixed to positive reviews from critics. The film received a rating of 66% on Rotten Tomatoes.[13] Of the 147 reviewers surveyed, 98 of them certified the film as "fresh" while 49 of them certified it as "rotten".[13] Metacritic gave the film a rating of 58%, with 37 reviews sampled.[14]

Roger Ebert, reviewing for the Chicago Sun-Times, awarded the film 2.5 stars out of 4, describing the film as "too much formula and not enough human interest."[15] He added that the film's "pieces go together too easily, the plot is too inevitable, and we feel little real energy between the players."[15] However, he did praise Damon, whom he says "makes a sturdy and likable Benjamin Mee".[15] The New York Times reviewer Manohla Dargis criticized Crowe's direction, writing that it "makes the escalating tension between Benjamin and Dylan the story's soft center," while keeping "the brutality of illness and death" "safely off-screen".[16] She also noted that the film uses "classic movie logic", specifically pointing out the way that Benjamin quits his job and that he "doesn't agonize about how he'll keep his children housed, fed and clothed".[16] On the other hand, Dargis wrote that "you may not buy his [Cameron's] happy endings, but it's a seductive ideal when all of God's creatures, great and small, buxom and blond, exist in such harmony."[16]

The Hollywood Reporter commented that the "uplifting tale [the film] has heart, humanity and a warmly empathetic central performance from Matt Damon", although it "doesn't dodge the potholes of earnest sentimentality and at times overplays the whimsy".[17] The reviewer also praised the cast, describing them as "solid", and in particular praised Damon's character, whose struggle he says "gives the movie a soulful pull, even at its most predictable".[17] Overall, this reviewer summarized his review by saying that "Cameron Crowe's film has some rough edges, but it ultimately delivers thanks to Matt Damon's moving performance."[17]

Home media[edit]

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released We Bought a Zoo on DVD and Blu-ray on April 3, 2012.


Year Award Category Recipient(s) Result
2011 Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards[18] Best Live Action Family Film Nominated
2012 Teen Choice Awards[19] Choice Movie: Drama Nominated
Choice Movie Actor: Drama Matt Damon Nominated
Choice Movie Actress: Drama Scarlett Johansson Nominated

The real zoo[edit]

There are a number of differences between the story shown in the movie and the events that actually transpired. The real Benjamin Mee is British. The story was adapted for an American audience and the changes were met with Mee's approval.[20] The actual zoo Mee bought is Dartmoor Zoological Park, located in Devon, England,[21] while the fictional zoo in the film is called Rosemoor Wildlife Park, and is located in California.

In real life, Benjamin's wife, Katherine, died after they had already bought the zoo and moved in.[21] In the film, Benjamin bought the zoo only after her death. In real life, Benjamin's father had died and his mother needed to move; the farm cost the same price as his parent's house, and his mother came too.[22] Benjamin and his family made a specific and informed decision to buy a zoo. In the film, it occurred as a result of finding a house they liked.

Instead of an escaping bear, as portrayed by the film, it was a jaguar called Sovereign that had escaped.[21] Additionally, Benjamin's children were younger (aged four and six respectively) than the children in the film.[21]

In the film, the zoo was much easier to buy. In real life, it took almost two years to buy.[21] Benjamin's first offer to buy the zoo was rejected due to his lack of experience in the zoological world.[21] Finally, the real zoo opened on Saturday July 7, 2007. However, the movie moved that event up to the same date in 2010, maybe to make the story more current. This latter date fell on a Wednesday, but was identified in the script as the original Saturday.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Masters, Kim (2011-11-22). "Cameron Crowe Returns With 'We Bought a Zoo'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2011-11-28. 
  2. ^ a b c "We Bought a Zoo". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2012-07-05. 
  3. ^ Rich, Katey (2010-05-17). "Cameron Crowe Commits To We Bought A Zoo For Late 2011 Release". Cinema Blend. Retrieved 2010-10-29. 
  4. ^ Harris, Scott (2010-06-24). "Matt Damon May Lead Cameron Crowe's 'We Bought a Zoo'". Moviefone. Retrieved 2011-10-29. 
  5. ^ "Thomas Haden Church Joins 'Killer Joevbvb' & 'We Bought A Zoo'". ScreenRant. Retrieved 2010-10-29. 
  6. ^ Rawden, Mack (2010-10-20). "Colin Ford Cast As Matt Damon's Son In We Bought A Zoo". Cinema Blend. Retrieved 2011-10-29. 
  7. ^ a b Fleming, Mike (2010-11-09). "Cameron Crowe Taps His 'Almost Famous' Alter Ego For 'Zoo,' And Elle Fanning, Too". Deadline. Retrieved 2011-12-29. 
  8. ^ a b c d Kit, Borys (2010-05-17). "Cameron Crowe to direct 'Zoo'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  9. ^ a b Mariotti, Greg (2011-08-01). "Sigur Rós Frontman Jónsi Scoring We Bought A Zoo". The Uncool. Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  10. ^ a b Chitwood, Adam (2011-12-19). "39 Songs Contend for Best Original Song Oscar; Nominees Include THE MUPPETS and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER". collider.com. Retrieved 2011-12-27. 
  11. ^ "We Bought A Zoo Soundtrack". 2011-11-03. Retrieved 2011-12-30. 
  12. ^ "We Bought A Zoo – Complete Soundtrack". 2011-12-29. Retrieved 2011-12-30. 
  13. ^ a b "We Bought a Zoo (2011) on Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2011-12-29. 
  14. ^ "We Bought a Zoo on Metacritic". Metacritic. Retrieved 2011-12-29. 
  15. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger (2011-12-21). "We Bought a Zoo review". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  16. ^ a b c Dargis, Manohla (2011-12-22). "A Modern-Day Ark, With Children, Animals and Even Romance". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-29. 
  17. ^ a b c Rooney, David. "We Bought a Zoo: Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2011-12-30. 
  18. ^ "The Artist Tops Phoenix Film Critics Awards". Retrieved July 15, 2012. 
  19. ^ "Teen Choice Awards 2012: 'Breaking Dawn,' 'Snow White' Lead Second Wave of Nominees". Retrieved July 15, 2012. 
  20. ^ "Ben sees Dartmoor Zoo rebuilt in Californian hills". This is Plymouth. 2011-07-23. Retrieved December 27, 2011. 
  21. ^ a b c d e f Mee, Benjamin (2007-06-23). "My Family & Other Animals". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-12-07. 
  22. ^ Salter, Jessica (3 Mar 2012). "We Bought a Zoo: the true story behind the film". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 30 Nov 2013. 

External links[edit]