I'm probably a bit "movied out" and am being overly generous with this quaint family holiday flick. But considering a couple of the other family marketed films - this is probably dead on.


"We Bought a Zoo" is a cute little piece by director Cameron Crowe that doesn't test the edges of anything like his Oscar winning "Almost Famous" and "Vanilla Sky" did. Instead, it's just what the doctor ordered for a winter holiday film.


It features another steady as a rock performance by Matt Damon as Benjamin Mee, Southern California big city single parent with two young kids. He recently lost his wife and is still mourning her passing while trying to keep the children focused.

As is the case in just about every film along these lines (recently "The Descendants") one kids is fine and one is acting out. The eldest, Dylan (Colin Ford) is the one acting out while his younger sister Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) is taking everything in childlike stride.


It is because of Dylan's acting up in school that Benjamin decides they need a change of venue. So, he hires a real estate broker and starts looking for homes elsewhere.


Lo and behold, he comes across the perfect country setting about two hours outside the city; it just happens to be an abandoned zoo - animals, staff and all. There is just one caveat attache to the property - he must re-open the zoo.


This will require two things: renewing the zoo's permit and the money to renew the zoo's permits. As it happens, he happens to have patience and a nice stash of cash set aside. All he needs is the cooperation of the kids and the staff.

In his ear is his brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church) who thinks the project is crazy and he'll wind up blowing all the money. Which is feasible.


However, in the other ear and right in front of him is the hot little zoo keeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) - luscious lips and all. She is one with the animals and has a good handle on the staff.


So now the fun begins with a race against time with the local zoological magistrate Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins) who is the officious hard ass everyone loves to hate. And nobody hates him more than zoo staffer Peter MacCready (Angus Macfadyen) an animalistic nutjob.


A sude story develops when Kelly (Elle Fanning) the local cute young tweener gets a crush on Dylan.


All along humorous things happen, that we've all seen before but are still humorous and things look to sail along until he runs out of money.


Walking into the theater, you already know how thye film will end - this is a family film after all. The cast works well together with Johansson really impressing with her non-sexual look. Hayden Church steals every scene he's in with his dry humor.


"We Bought A Zoo" works on every level and is nearly a perfect holiday movie. It's not too mushy with just the right amount of humor and fun critters.   -- GEOFF BURTON