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We Bought a Zoo: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

We Bought a Zoo (2011) movie poster We Bought a Zoo

Theatrical Release: December 23, 2011 / Running Time: 124 Minutes / Rating: PG / Songs List

Director: Cameron Crowe / Writers: Benjamin Mee (book); Aline Brosh McKenna, Cameron Crowe (screenplay)

Cast: Matt Damon (Benjamin Mee), Scarlett Johansson (Kelly Foster), Thomas Haden Church (Duncan Mee), Colin Ford (Dylan Mee), Maggie Elizabeth Jones (Rosie Mee), Angus MacFayden (Peter MacCready), Elle Fanning (Lily Miska), Patrick Fugit (Robin Jones), John Michael Higgins (Walter Ferris), Carla Gallo (Rhonda Blair), JB Smoove (Mr. Stevens), Stephanie Szostak (Katherine Mee), Michael Panes (Principal), Kym Whitley (Cashier), Todd Stanton (San Diego Vet), Lauren Sanchez (TV Anchor Hollis Moody), Peter Riegert (Delbert McGinty), Roberto Montesinos (Hugo Chavez)

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Cameron Crowe went six years without writing or directing a non-documentary.
Though the memories of the critical drubbing and commercial failure of his last narrative feature, 2005's Elizabethtown, have faded, Crowe still needed a comeback film to restore the status that the decorated and repeatedly AFI-acknowledged Jerry Maguire (1996) and original screenplay Oscar winner Almost Famous (2000) gave him.

We Bought a Zoo, the potential return vehicle, differs from Crowe's past work in several ways. This is his first book adaptation since his debut screenplay turned his one novel into Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Zoo is also the first project on which Crowe shares screenplay credit, as Aline Brosh McKenna (27 Dresses, The Devil Wears Prada) receives top billing for the script.

Following the death of his wife, Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) moves his daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and his recently expelled son to a zoo. Head zookeeper Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson) smiles at the way things turn out in "We Bought a Zoo."

Loosely adapted from Benjamin Mee's memoir, Zoo tells the unlikely true story of Mee (Matt Damon), who six months after his wife's death moves his troubled teenaged son (Colin Ford) and young daughter (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) to a plot of California country land that comes with wild animals and a small staff. A journalist with an appetite for adventure, Benjamin and his family aren't swimming in money, but he spends his inheritance and more to bring the shuttered Rosemoor Wildlife Park up to code, hoping that the zoo will be able to recoup those costs with an early July reopening.

Benjamin isn't at all cut out for zoo ownership, but with the specter of his wife hanging over everything familiar, he decides the best thing to do is to quit his newspaper job and embark on altogether new experiences. The new calling is costly and everyone from Benjamin's older brother (Thomas Haden Church) to the infamous safety inspector (John Michael Higgins) to the facility's inherited staff has doubts that he can get Rosemoor back in business and save its assorted residents, which include an undermedicated grizzly bear, an aging tiger, snakes, peacocks, and porcupines.

While the sweet and lovely head zookeeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) acclimates him to the ins and outs of his new job, Benjamin also wrestles with concerns of single parenthood and of coming to terms with his wife's passing.

Even this grizzly bear has his doubts about Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) owning a zoo. Thomas Haden Church plays Duncan Mee, who considers himself the voice of reason his brother needs.

It sounds corny and it looks corny, but We Bought a Zoo is actually quite a likable and well-made picture. It is feel-good cinema that doesn't pull punches or manipulate you. Sure, there is plenty of sentiment and tenderness, but it is handled as tactfully as (and maybe even more than) Crowe's previous dramedic romances. The film contains wit, sincere heart, and Crowe's fine ear for fitting needle drops,
which gives us his old favorites Tom Petty, Cat Stevens, and Neil Young as well as an appealing original score by Sigur Rós' Jónsi.

Matt Damon stretches himself some, carrying a film far from the action thrillers he's typically been cast in. The material is reminiscent of his other turn from late 2011, Contagion, although he was just one of many secondary focuses there. There is no global epidemic or clinical tone to distract from the touchy-feely moments here. Damon acquits himself nicely, although paternity does not feel like his new comfort zone.

Zoo became the third highest-grossing film of Crowe's writing and directing career, grossing a respectable $75 million. After a theatrical release just days before Christmas, Fox brought the film to DVD and a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack just days before Easter.

We Bought a Zoo: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.85:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (French, Spanish)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (Family-Friendly English, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 2 DVD-9s)
Blue Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video


Picture quality on the Blu-ray's 1.85:1 presentation is just about perfect. The element is obviously spotless and the detailed, vibrant, warm, sharp visuals greatly enhance one's viewing. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is also highly satisfactory. The adequate mix features decent sound design, with scattered animal noises commanding notice and dialogue also retaining weight and clarity.

The long deleted scenes section gives us more of John Michael Higgins' picky inspector, but not his deleted stomach groans. Laughs break out in the "We Bought a Zoo" gag reel.


Whether it represents another change in strategy or merely a tactic taken in response to Zoo's over 2-hour runtime, this combo pack brings Fox back to the 3-disc design they favored for some time.
The approach gives us a Blu-ray (which is not available on its own), the full DVD identical to the one sold separately, and a digital copy DVD-ROM.

The all-HD extras begin with a huge collection of twenty deleted/extended scenes (37:27). They are about on par with the film in quality; there just clearly wasn't room for them with over two hours of movie in there. Though lacking anything essential or game-changing, the lot includes more moments to remove sympathy from the zoo's accountant Rhonda (Carla Gallo) and to identify minor staff members (like Angus MacFayden and Almost Famous' Patrick Fugit).

A relatively long, strong gag reel (6:57) entertains with an unusual presentation of items like ad libs, Matt Damon's accent play, and random dancing.

Matt Damon, Cameron Crowe, and crew members check out playback in the feature-length documentary "We Shot a Zoo." Icelandic rocker Jónsi discusses his score with Cameron Crowe in "Their Happy is Too Loud."

Unexpectedly, "We Shot a Zoo" (1:15:52) is a comprehensive five-part making-of documentary sporadically narrated by Cameron Crowe. It introduces us to the real Benjamin Mee, who you'll notice is a lot more British and bald than Matt Damon, serving up a lot of footage of his real Dartmoor Park. It moves on to location scouting, set construction, rehearsals, filming, animal wrangling, and the Mee family's closing scene cameo. Liberal use of Jónsi music makes the production look magical, but this is a more exhaustive companion than the film really warrants.

"Their Happy is Too Loud" (17:29) looks at the creation of the score by Jónsi, which finds Crowe fawning over the Icelandic composer and waxing upon his genius contributions to the film.

The real Benjamin Mee, bald and British, speaks in front of a wildcat in his real zoo. A still from Neal Preston's photo gallery shows us the filming of a scene between Matt Damon and an elderly tiger.

"The Real Mee" (28:35) profiles the author loosely portrayed by Matt Damon. He and his young kids take us around the real family zoo, which he discusses owning. He also addresses his wife's illness and death. Like the previous features, it is well-produced but overlong.

A photo gallery displays 123 images shot by Neal Preston, most of them granting us candid behind-the-scenes views.

Next comes an audio commentary by Cameron Crowe, editor Mark Livolski, and actor JB Smoove. Smoove was picked less for his limited involvement in the film and more to spice up the track. He serves that end well, giving this a distinct and diverting tone. The commentary outlasts the film by 2 minutes, 8 seconds with an introductory part playing against black before the movie begins. Among the interesting topics tackled here are a deleted gag involving John Michael Higgins' character's stomach growls, the revealing nature of toupees, and Smoove's childhood wish to own a wild boar and adult methods for avoiding bobcats.

The DVD and identical Blu-ray menu deserve creativity points for using these graphics instead of a routine montage.

A far less standard audio presentation is had in a family-friendly audio track
which alters the scattered PG-rated profanity (but not the mouth movements), giving us words like "rascal", "shoot", and "dork" where similar-sounding more vulgar terms were previously heard. It's kind of an odd feature, but coming as merely an option and not self-imposed censorship, who can mind it?

The Blu-ray and DVD open with the first of this year's unnecessary CGI sequels, the 2˝-minute short Scrat's Continental Crack-Up: Part 2, in which the Ice Age squirrel searches for pirate treasure. It's followed by an ad for Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. Those two items are all that we find under the Blu-ray's Sneak Peek section. To them, the DVD adds previews for Tooth Fairy 2 and Marley & Me: The Puppy Years.

We Bought a Zoo's theatrical trailer (2:30) is included. Well, one of them is. This preview differs somewhat from the one that has appeared on many a Fox disc since last year.

The Blu-ray has a "Live Extras" section, which allows you to stream or download bonus feature excerpts from just a handful of Fox family titles.

The DVD includes the audio commentary and "It's a Zoo" (23:25), the animal wrangling portion of the Blu-ray's big making-of documentary.

The digital copy disc provides the film in three different formats (MP4, Windows Media, and iTunes) for transfer to computers and portable devices.

The creative menu pops up drawings of trees and animals in paw prints while a short piece of Jónsi's score is looped. The disc supports bookmarks on the film and resumes playback as well.

The three discs fit into a standard Blu-ray case, joined by an insert of digital copy code and directions. It is topped by a snug slipcover, which boasts a sticker for a free child's zoo admission with the purchase of an adult ticket. Depending on whether you have a printer and a kid, that could be a nice deal for you.

Meet the staff that comes with the Rosemoor Wildlife Park: left to right, Carla Gallo, Angus MacFayden, Scarlett Johansson, Patrick Fugit, and Elle Fanning.


We Bought a Zoo is a good (not great) film much in the fashion of Cameron Crowe's previous ones. This family dramedy will strike some as cloying, but I found it sweet, sincere, and with its heart in the right place. Fox's Blu-ray is loaded with extras, wielding quite a bit more than the average viewer will care to see and hear. The DVD is sadly far lighter, but at least the combo pack does right by including the same DVD sold on its own and a separate digital copy disc. The movie merits a viewing, but I can't guarantee you'll like it enough to keep going back for more.

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Starring Matt Damon: ContagionThe RainmakerInvictusThe Brothers GrimmOcean's ThirteenTrue Grit
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Based on Nonfiction Books: Marley & MeMoneyballThe Big YearHe's Just Not That Into You
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We Bought a Zoo Songs List: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - "Don't Come Around Here No More", Echo & The Bunnymen - "Do It Clean", Wilco - "Airline to Heaven", Cat Stevens - "Don't Be Shy", Jónsi - "Go Do", Chris Whitley - "Living with the Law", Mike McCready - "Last Medicine Dance", Bob Dylan - "Buckets of Rain", Quantic Presenta Flowering Inferno - "No Soy Del Valle", Jónsi - "Sinking Friendships", Acetone - "Like I Told You", Mike McCready - "Ashley Collective", The Upsetters - "For a Few Dollars More", Temple of the Dog - "Hunger Strike", Jónsi – "Ćvin Endar", Mariachi El Bronx - "Mariachi El Bronx", CKsquared - "Haleakala Sunset", Jónsi – "Boy Lilikoi", Neil Young and Crazy Horse - "Cinnamon Girl", Bon Iver - "Holocene", Mike McCready - "Throwing Arrows", Otis Rush - "All You Love (I Miss Loving)", The Isley Brothers - "Work to Do", Randy Newman - "I Think It's Going to Rain Today", Sigur Ros - "Hoppípolla", Jónsi - "Gathering Stories"

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Reviewed April 17, 2012.

Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 20th Century Fox, LBI Entertainment, Vinyl Films, and 2012 Fox Home Entertainment.
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