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We Bought a Zoo Christian Review

We Bought a Zoo is a fun family film with profound messages. Based on a true story, Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is a recent widower who is struggling to hold his family together after the death of his wife. His son Dylan (Colin Ford) is expressing his grief by acting out at school and ends up getting expelled. In an effort to establish a fresh start for himself and his two children, Benjamin quits his job and looks for a house in the country. He gets more than he bargained for: the house he likes turns out to be on zoo property, and if he buys the house he also is agreeing to take charge of the dilapidated zoo. As the title of the film suggests, Benjamin decides to take the plunge.

The Mee’s life at the zoo is where the central story takes off. An attraction develops between Benjamin and Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), the zoo’s caretaker, and Dylan begins a friendship with Lily (Elle Fanning), who also works at the zoo. However, both Benjamin and Dylan are still grieving over their loss and stop themselves short of deepening these relationships. Another story in the film is preparing the zoo to eventually re-open. This is taxing on the family and zoo staff alike and becomes a financial headache for Benjamin.

The film’s emotional content deepens when Spar, a seventeen year old Bengal tiger, gets sick. The zoo staff strongly urges Benjamin to put Spar down. (spoiler alert) At first Benjamin refuses. He is still struggling with feelings of ineptitude and guilt over his wife’s death, and views Spar’s sickness as an opportunity to redeem himself. In fact, his feelings are so pronounced that he cannot even bring himself to look at old photographs of his late wife. At the film’s climax, Benjamin has a fight with Dylan which conjures previously ignored feelings in both of them. Benjamin forgives himself and agrees to put Scar down.

The decision has a healing effect on the entire family. Benjamin finds himself able to view photographs of his wife again, and allows himself to begin a relationship with Kelly. Dylan comes out of his self-imposed shell and opens himself to Lily. Of course, as in real life, the zoo opens successfully.

There are several lessons to be learned from this film:

1.    Taking risks pays off. From the decision to purchase the zoo to putting Scar down, Benjamin’s decisions eventually enable him to work through his wife’s death.
2.    Forgiveness allows us to move forward. Benjamin works through his grief by forgiving himself. Likewise, after Dylan forgives his father, he is able to enjoy life again.
3.    Family is priority. Benjamin buys the zoo in an effort to give his children a good life. The family also learns how to work together for a common cause.
4.    Sometimes healing hurts. The film does not gloss over the family’s pain. It paints a real-life portrait of grief and shows how a family can regain its emotional health.

There is some language in the film, but the antics of the animals will keep the children amused and the story communicates important life lessons.

★★★★☆

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