We Bought a Zoo (Blu-ray)

April 10, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

As I rack my brain, I really can’t remember the last time I visited a zoo. And, to boot, I live 30 minutes outside of Washington D.C. – home of one of the best zoos in the country. Go figure. Still, when looking at this movie, a few things other than animals come to mind. First, Cameron Crowe is behind the camera. This is good. The guy has given us movies like Jerry MaGuire and Almost Famous. This leads me to the lead actor, Matt Damon. Damon has been a favorite of mine since I first saw him in 1992’s School Ties. Of course he rose to stardom in 1997 with films like Saving Private Ryan and Good Will Hunting. He then made more of a name for himself with the Ocean’s… and Bourne… films. But Damon can’t play an action hero forever and as he ages, his roles will most likely become more indicative of his age. This leads us to We Bought a Zoo, based on a true story.

Damon stars as Benjamin Mee and has just lost his wife. This leaves Ben in charge of his two children: Dylan (Colin Ford) and Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), both of whom are coping with the loss of their mother in very different ways. Ben decides that a new start is the way to go and after finding a perfect, rustic place he decides to pounce on it. The only catch…it’s a zoo! Ben figures he’ll give it a go even though he has no idea what he’s doing and, of course, the zoo comes fully-equipped with an assortment of “help” led by Kelly (Scarlett Johansson). The main focus of the film is not only the rebuilding of Ben and his family, but of the zoo itself. If the animals are to survive, they must get everything up to code. Of course we know that will most likely happen, even though the main antagonist, Walter (John Michael Higgins) would like nothing more than to see it fail.

After reading Roger Ebert’s review of this film, it did lead me to think like he does. In 2011 we had both George Clooney and Matt Damon star as fathers who have both lost their wives (Clooney in The Descendants) and Damon here. And while both films shared a common theme, one did it far better than the other. I personally didn’t have a problem with We Bought a Zoo, though it was fairly predictable. I mean, c’mon, are they really going to let the animals die? Right. Do you think that the attractive zookeeper might end up with the dad who lost his wife? Do you think the angsty teen might come around when the model-esque girl next door (literally) has a thing for him? Granted this was based on a true story, though they moved it from England to Southern California, but the main elements remained intact. And while this won’t go down as one of Crowe’s better films, it’s not an entire waste of time.

Video: How does it look?

The 1.78:1 AVC HD image is simply put, amazing. As I mentioned above, the setting has been transported to the sun-kissed valleys of Southern California and there are several scenes that look stunning. Rich textures can be seen on the animals’ fur, the facial hair on Damon’s face and his mop-topped hair that’s different in every scene. Those clamoring for a scantily-clad Scarlett Johansson will be disappointed, but fear not as The Avengers will be out this Summer. Flesh tones look warm and natural, detail is amazing and I’m hard-pressed to find much, if anything, wrong with this transfer. A fantastic effort.

Audio: How does it sound?

It took me a bit to realize that Cameron Crowe was the man behind this movie, but after hearing a few of the songs that dominate the DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack, it was a no-brainer. Vocals are strong and well-balanced, surrounds are used sparingly, but effectively. There are a few instances of all the channels working in synchronicity with a great effect (a bear roaring, anyone?). As much as I want to say that this is a dialogue-driven track, it’s equally balanced with Crowe’s variety of songs. It’s a nice, solid effort on the audio front.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This Blu-ray has enough features to warrant a purchase and we start off with an audio commentary by director Cameron Crowe, his Editor and actor J.B. Smoove (who has a small part in the film). Admittedly Smoove is an odd choice for the track and he’d not seen the film until recording this commentary. Crowe moderates the track like an interview and it’s actually a very interesting, informative track. Moving onto the Blu-ray exclusives we find several deleted and extended scenes (over 30 minutes worth) and a gag reel. “We Shot a Zoo” is a rather robust installment (running at 75 minutes) that essentially encompasses the entire film from beginning to end. It’s not your typical promotional fluff and it’s a very interesting watch. “Their Happy is Too Loud” is taken from a line in the film, though it focuses on Icelandic musician, J√≥nsi’s, score. “The Real Mee” is just that, an interview with the real Benjamin Mee as he tells us his story and gives us a walkthrough in Dartmoor, England. There’s also a photo gallery and theatrical trailer as well as a digital copy of the film.

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