Based on a true story, the predictable but sometimes-poignant “We Bought a Zoo” centers on a widower, Benjamin (Damon), a former journalist who impulsively purchases an old house located at the site of a decrepit zoo. The single dad moves his family to the new home, delighting his young daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) but alienating his teen son Dylan (Colin Ford).
The film plods at certain points, but it succeeds in tugging at the heartstrings at the precise moments. Like in most of Crowe’s films, the story’s romance angles are characterized by epiphanic bursts; the puppy love between Dylan and Lily (Elle Fanning) is cute, if ultimately perfunctory. Quite affecting, however, are Benjamin’s recollections of meeting and spending time with his much-missed wife (Stephanie Szostak).
There’s relatable family drama; this particular troubled father-son relationship isn’t anything new, but the actors make us care about it. The film is uplifting but schmaltzy, a friendly but formulaic sojourn that emphasizes healing and renewal.
“We Bought a Zoo” opens January 18.