"We Bought a Zoo" is what it is thanks to a number of reasons, but a primary one is director Cameron Crowe. Within the hands of another director, this could have been another "wacky" product for kids, with animal poop jokes.
The result under Crowe's hands starts off a little shaky, but builds into a moving and charming little character drama that features the zoo as a base to build satisfying drama and character relationships. It's a little goofily unrealistic at times, but good enough to look past some plot holes and other issues.
The picture focuses on Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon), a single father who has to take care of a cute daughter (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and depressed son (Colin Ford). One day, Benjamin decides to pick up the family and move to a new house - the one everyone decides upon happens to have some additional residents: it was a zoo that was abandoned by its former owners.
Seeing the possibility for a new adventure, Benajmin takes the place and finds something of a family of zookeepers, headed by Kelly (Scarlett Johansson). The picture follows the group as they go through the difficulties of trying to get the zoo in good enough shape to be approved to open, blending situations with the animals and personal moments - while subtle, the light romance between Kelly and Benjamin is pleasant and the two have a nice, quiet chemistry.
"Zoo" does get a little close to being cutesy/pulling on the heartstrings at times, but the character situations (such as the one with the son, which initially seems rather cliched) are wrapped up really quite well. Supporting performances by John Michael Higgins and Thomas Hayden Church are also first-rate.
Overall, "We Bought a Zoo" is a pleasant surprise - while there are a few bumps along the way, the picture offers terrific performances and solid direction from Crowe.
VIDEO: "We Bought a Zoo" is given fine treatment by 20th Century Fox, presenting the picture in 1.85:1 (1080p/avc). The result is a first-rate transfer, with crisp, clean images and very nice fine detail (hair, fur.) A couple of minor instances of edge enhancement were detected, but were hardly noticed. No other issues (print flaws, etc) were seen. Colors looked natural and pleasing, with very nice saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: The film is presented in DTS-HD 5.1. The picture's audio is understandably subdued, with minimal and appropriate use of the surrounds for ambience and light reinforcement of the music. Audio quality is fine, with well-recorded dialogue and music.
EXTRAS: Commentary from director Cameron Crowe, actor JB Smoove and editor Mark Livolsi. We also get deleted/extended scenes, a "making of", gag reel and additional featurettes, including "The Real Mee".
Final Thoughts: "We Bought a Zoo" is a warm, well-acted picture that's a really nice surprise. In the hands of director Crowe, it's a heartwarming, genuine picture. The Blu-Ray presentation offers fine audio/video quality, as well as a nice selection of extras.