Lions and tigers and bears….and ScarJo and Matt Damon? Oh my, what a glorious combo. Embrace that hidden, perhaps buried desire, for uplifting, family entertainment and give your Christmas a dose of cheese. It’s time for people all over the world to join hands, form a love train, and get to a theater.
Our kinda cliche Christmas film does not begin with roses and sunshine. Benjamin Mee, played by Matt Damon, recently lost his wife and therefore catapults his son and daughter into a new adventure involving a dilapidated zoo, renegade snakes, and one sassy zookeeper, Kelly Foster. Kelly (Scarlett) is quick to judge Benjamin’s authority, but hostility fades to admiration as Ben gives her precious animals his all. Surly teen son, Dylan (Colin Ford) is not as appreciative of Ben’s tenacity and throughout the movie openly sulks. (This behavior being completely justified considering his mom passed and his dad seems to be having a mid life crisis.) But will this family come together to pass the zoo inspection and once again open Rossmoor Animal Park to an anxious public? I’m not telling. You must watch, it’s my Christmas gift to you.
Director Cameron Crowe most likely had everyone “at hello” in “Jerry Maguire,” but the dude has to work a little harder to win over cynics this holiday season. Not me of course, but probably you. In my opinion, this feel good flick surpasses, by far, the endlessly sappy material the Hallmark Channel tends to churn out this time of year. I promise, even the most grinch-like adults may find their hearts in this whimsical film that provides hope for the broken, along with a little eye candy. Hope plus hottness is a winning combo this time of year (not to mention profitable). But seriously Hollywood, Scarlett sans ample make-up does not a dowdy character make. Her hottness is inevitable. We do not accept any role in which you try to trick us into believing that this A-list beauty is a “normal” looking zookeeper. With that said, her chemistry with Damon is legit. However, slightly pudgier Damon does seem a tad old for the youthful zookeeper. The romantic bounds were not pushed with these characters, which made the interaction more believable.
I was a little surprised the animals did not upstage human interaction. Yes, they were all fuzzy and cute and whatnot, but often furry friends tend to be scene stealers. This time, Crowe developed the “human” plot with additional emphasis on the quaint conglomeration of misfit characters banding together to save the zoo from extinction. I kinda like the more people less animal approach. Quirky Thomas Haden Church as Benjamin’s brother and likable Elle Fanning as bumpkin Lily, pumped up the star studded cast. Don’t get me wrong, zebras and ostriches are just swell. But somehow I find the frank honesty of adorbs Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Rosie Mee, more appealing than the call of the wild.
So, if crazy Aunt Linda and weird Nana Mary are spreading your holiday cheer a little thin, round up the entire crew for a cinematic experience sure to restore peace, joy, and sanity to the night before Christmas. Heck, even grumpy Uncle Bob, full of humbug and no ‘ho ho ho’, may have a Scrooge altering moment. If you hate this movie, then you probably hate America. And Christmas.