We Bought a Zoo opens with the voice of Dylan Mee (Colin Ford) narrating glimpses of his journalist father Benjamin's (Matt Damon) worldly adventures. Ben's been embedded with violent dictators covered with killer bees and flown through the eye of a hurricane but as Dylan explicitly states "nothing prepared him for this one"—the "this one" being the titular purchasing of a zoo on the brink of closure. Director Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire Almost Famous) has never been one for subtly but that's never been the goal. We Bought a Zoo drops the cynicism wears its heart on its sleeve and doesn't mind laying it on thick in an effort to move you which it does—whether you like it or not.
Six months after his wife's death Ben still doesn't have a grasp on how to be a good parent. He struggles to throw together bagged lunches for his daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) watches Dylan downward spiral into school expulsion reluctantly accepts lasagnas from the sympathetic family friends and grieves over iPhoto montages of a life that once was. Every corner of his home conjures up familial memories prompting Ben to hightail it out of town. After a desperate house hunt Ben sets his sights on a stunning country home that comes with one twist: it's the home to lions and tiger and bears (oh my!).
Along with its diverse collection of fauna Ben's new zoo sports a colorful cast of staff members including Peter MacCready the temperamental Scottish maintenance man Robin the laid-back handyman with a monkey on his shoulder and Kelly the young committed animal handler (Scarlett Johansson). Ben inspires his team with motivational speeches (and signed checks) and together they work to rebuild and reopen the park.
We Bought a Zoo explores its themes of loss and renewal on the surface with cartoony characters hammy dialogue and a score by Jónsi of Sigur Rós that steers you towards an emotional destination. But it all works thanks in large part to Matt Damon's charm and a general air of niceness to the whole package. Damon is one of the few stars capable of playing a Regular Joe. Watching him have his butt kicked by zoo chores is delightful while he adds true gravity to the dramatic moments. Whether he's butting heads with his morose son in a screaming match or tearing up over his inescapable past Damon digs deeper than Crowe and Aline Brosh McKenna's (The Devil Wears Prada 27 Dresses) screenplay. The rest of the cast manages to elevate the material too—Johansson keeps herself down to Earth; Thomas Haden Church as Ben's skeptical brother Duncan knocks every joke out of the park; And the young Elle Fanning inspires once again as Kelly's bubbly tween cousin who falls for the disgruntled Dylan (although no one seems to have a problem with a 12-year-old spending her days working/living at a zoo; her parents are completely out of the picture).
The movie doesn't take unexpected turns or make profound statements but it succeeds in its goal of tugging the audience's heartstrings. The world of We Bought a Zoo is one where everything works out if you persevere have hope and open yourself up to love. That's not reality but rather inspirational thinking. Perfect for the holiday season.
S2E13: Community had a very important lesson for us this week: drugs are bad, mmk? Yep, you betcha. Annie’s heading up Greendale’s anti-drug presentation for “at-risk pre-teens” and she’s got the whole study group involved. At first I was a little put off that she somehow managed to get them all to participate, but they are good friends and they love her, so it makes sense they’d sacrifice their dignity to give her a hand.
Overall, this episode was a bit predictable, pulling from the first few worn out pages of the sitcom playbook, but it worked and it kept the funny going, so I can forgive them for this one. Plus, Abed subtly makes sure to punctuate, not necessarily call out, the moments when the plot starts to dive into sitcom prescriptions and I think half the reason he was so silent this episode is because he felt like he was sitting on his couch watching an old episode of Friends or Who’s The Boss. Even when it’s being predictable, Community doesn’t forget who it is.
“Does marijuana make people work faster? I thought it helped people custom paint their vans and solve mysteries.” –Abed
And just like that, Abed roasts Scooby Doo in the first 15 seconds of the episode. Gotta love that kid. The cold open was nothing spectacular, but it did give us the chance to see Shirley say “tripping balls” while wearing a green crayon costume, Jeff and Britta literally dressed as the “cool cats” they are, the dean interrupting with the creepily suggestive pun “dean-dong!” and one of the best punch-lines we’ve had in a while.
“What are you doing in an apartment above Dildopolis? And when did they open a second location?” –Pierce
So here it is, the reason they’ve been carefully dropping hints about how crappy Annie’s little apartment is. Her parents cut her off after rehab and she’s running out of the money she saved from allowance and something called The Period Fairy. (Genius!) Once again, you’ve got to love the contrast that’s constantly within Annie. She’s always completely put together, prim and proper, but if she’s not going crazy, lying on the floor in the hall giving up on language or creating insane plots to straighten out her fellow study group members, she’s living in a dump above a sex shop, collecting cans like a hobo and driving around a rusty old bucket o’ bolts. And this is where things get going.
Pierce follows Annie home after she won’t give him more lines in her anti-drug play, but when he finds out where she lives, he takes her under his wing almost like a father and helps her pay her rent. Thank goodness the writers didn’t let this good feeling last too long (I was starting to actually LIKE Pierce), switching to a scene where Pierce is watching a reel of his father’s commercial for Hawthorne Wipes, wherein his dad hired an actor to play him because little Pierce failed his audition. Because it’s Community, and not some other show, this played out like Pierce was a typical serial killer from a horror movie. Secretly lying in wait, obsessing over past wrongs and vowing to somehow make them right. You have got to admit, even if you never liked Chevy Chase before, this is the one show where he fits absolutely perfectly.
“I don’t like flirting in text.” –Britta
“That’s like saying you don’t work by electric light.” –Jeff
In one of the secondary plots, we find the most textbook sitcom plot I can remember seeing on this show. Britta doesn’t want to text flirt with some dude, and because she’s suddenly and uncharacteristically an idiot and leaves her phone with Jeff Winger MULTIPLE times, he decides to help her out by sending flirty texts. Abed says it, but we’re all thinking it, asking how this could not be a bad idea. EXACTLY. But it’s the fact that the writers call it out through Abed that allows me to forgive them. It’s like they’re saying, “Yeah, we know. Just go with it.”
Plus, it’s worth it when Jeff pretends to be Britta’s boyfriend to keep her unnecessarily excited nephew who received the suggestive texts to keep quiet by delivering Britta’s bra to him as hush money. It was dastardly and awful and totally Jeff Winger.
“Are you ignoring because I’m Korean?” –Chang
“You’re Chinese.” –Shirley
“Oh, there’s a difference?” –Chang
Involving Chang in a pregnancy scandal is the only way I would accept this kind of drama on Community. By now, everyone knows about the Chang experience Shirley had on Halloween, but true to her character, she’s too embarrassed to deal with it. Chang is the perfect blend of creepy and lovable (but always managing to ruin that with something disgusting or disconcerting), even making Shirley a mix tape, but on an actual tape so she can’t play it, but don’t worry he made a list of tape players on Craig’s List. The writers are allowing Chang to take part in this humanizing storyline without stripping him of those bits that make him the character we all love to spit on.
Even when he saves the day at the end of the episode, he does it with overwhelming Chang-ness and finishes up by responding to Shirley’s apology with something that ensures we continue to think of him as the total nut-job that he is.
“Hey crayon, do you know where I can get some drugs?” –Troy
When it comes time for Annie’s little play, Pierce has put his helping hands to more diabolical use. Of course he does; he’s Pierce! It was predictable, but how could you not laugh (and feel the appropriate amount of remorse later) when we got to see Pierce dressed as a pot leaf with a rainbow fro, calling the bees and cool cats “nerds” and getting “50 at-risk pre-teens armed with baseballs” to chant “WE WANT DRUGS” just so that Chang could swoop in and make the perfect rescue, presenting his craziness as a metaphor for the aftermath of drug use. You have to admit, that was pretty perfect.
Plus, this whole plot forces Annie to finally get a job, which brings up a point I’ve been wondering about for a while. Why does no one have a job on this show? Britta’s endless supply of leather jackets can’t come out of thin air. I’m just glad they’re finally addressing it.
“Well. That answers my question. Jeff Winger is sexy even in a coffin.” –Dean
Okay, I don’t actually have a lot to say on this point other than how many creepy fetishes does the dean have? Necrophelia? Wow. At least they’re not letting his character grow stale, instead just letting him continue to fester like a petri dish in moist, warm room. Yuck…yet still hilarious.
“At Dildopolis, your privacy is our top concern. All store purchases will show up on your credit card as A.V.C. Dildos Incorporated.” – Announcement from Dildopolis
There was no Troy and Abed tag this week, but instead this incredibly uncomfortable, but funny scene with Annie as she attempts to sleep through the sex shop’s 2 a.m. announcement. I love that she stops pounding on the floor with a broom when they start talking about serving espresso and biscotti. Does anyone else think that Annie may be looking a little too close to home for that new job of hers? Wouldn’t that be the best possible job for her? Yes, yes it would. The only problem is that I have no idea how they could do that on network television, because I’m pretty sure you can’t show walls of sex toys on a Thursday night at 8 p.m., but if anyone can figure out a way, it’s this show.