A film like We Bought a Zoo always brings out my two sides as a film critic. Let’s call them “Bad Max” and “Good Max.”
Bad Max might point out that this film, about a recent widower (Matt Damon) who buys a ramshackle zoo with his two children, is a cutesy blend of sitcom humor and sentimentality, all wrapped in a convenient “based on a true story” package.
But Good Max would note that the film’s “not too heavy, not too light” tone is perfect for the holidays.
Bad Max might whine that Cameron Crowe, who made the brilliant Almost Famous and Say Anything, among others, is too good for this kind of formulaic material.
But Good Max would argue that well-made family fare—even the formulaic kind—are a rare thing, and we shouldn’t look a gift horse (or zebra, in this case) in the mouth.
Bad Max might say that the youngest daughter, played by Maggie Elizabeth Jones, is the worst kind of movie kid: Self-consciously cute and precocious.
Good Max would note that, well, she is kind of adorable and the characters of both her moody older brother (Duncan Mee) and his adoring new friend (the suddenly essential Elle Fanning) are much more complex and thoughtful.
Bad Max might say: And of coooourse a hot babe like Scarlett Johansson just happens to be the zookeeper.
But Good Max would note, Hey, it’s a movie. You were expecting an ugly zookeeper? (And besides, Johansson is a welcome presence in almost any film. )
Bad Max might say, Could that final scene have been any more manipulative?
Good Max says, “Pass the tissues.”
In the end, Good Max wins out and Bad Max says “uncle.” We Bought a Zoo wore down my defenses.