Picture from We Bought A Zoo
Overall B+

Feeling lost after the death of his wife, Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) tries to reinvent his life by quitting his job and buying a dilapidated zoo. This meets with mixed reactions from his two children.

Violence B
Sexual Content B
Profanity C+
Substance Use C+

MPAA Rating: PG for language and some thematic elements.

We Bought A Zoo

The last thing Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) wants is more sympathy—real or affected. Following the death of his wife Katherine (Stephanie Szostak) he’s been inundated with lasagnas from single moms at school and given soft assignments at the office. Finally, in frustration, he quits his job and goes house shopping with his young daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and an eager new real estate agent (J.B. Smoove).

Looking for a way to move past his loss, he purchases a rundown wildlife park complete with exotic animals, equally unusual staff members and a long list of needed improvements. Rosie is thrilled. Benjamin’s 14-year-old son Dylan (Colin Ford) is not. Neither is Benjamin’s older brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church). Even the head zookeeper (Scarlett Johansson) and the other employees are leery of the new owner who has no experience and limited cash.

Based on the life of the real Benjamin Mee and his family who bought a zoo in England in 2006, this adaptation takes place in Southern California. But while repairing animal enclosures (the term “cage” is antiquated) and caring for the creatures take most of the family’s time, dealing with their heartache becomes the dominant driver of the storyline.

Depictions of drinking (including an inebriated employee) and more than a dozen profanities appear in this script, along with infrequent moments of peril involving animals. Yet the greatest conflicts occur when the humans engage in brief, but intense, arguments.

Still the movie offers audiences of older children, teens and their parents a positive story about meeting difficulties, exercising courage and reaching out to one another in the face of grief.