We Bought A Zoo

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Film (with rating): We Bought A Zoo (PG)

 

Studio: Fox
Home Entertainment

 

Summary: Cameron
Crowe (“Jerry Maguire,” “Say Anything”) directs this
based-on-a-true story film about a widowed dad (Matt Damon) who quits his job,
sells his house and moves with his two kids to a zoo. Together, with dedicated
staffers, they work to turn the dilapidated facility into something
spectacular.

 

Review:
Despite being a huge dog fan, I’m not a big lover of animal movies. In fact, I
hate them. I blame my elementary school. On the last day of first grade, the
entire school gathered in the cafeteria to watch “Old Yeller.” Sweet
mother of all things holy! I still get a twitch when I recall that film! So all
these years later, I still have trouble settling into a peaceful movie-viewing
Zen state when animals are involved. But being a big fan of Crowe (I mean,
could the boom box scene in “Say Anything” be any more classic and
memorable?) I thought I would give “Zoo” a try. And I’m glad I did.
Crowe, an unlikely romantic in Hollywood, keeps the nitty-gritty of zoo keeping
and grief off the screen. Yes, he also brushes past some details that tripped
me up for a moment (“You’re quitting your job? What about health
insurance? What will you do to feed your kids? What if you’re never hired
again?!”), but I realized the main focus of “Zoo” wasn’t to
provide a how-to map of starting a new life. Instead, it painted a portrait of
moving on and living again, for both two- and four-legged creatures. We saw the
picture; we didn’t have to witness the brush strokes.

 

What kept “Zoo” from being overly schmaltzy was
the acting talent. With each film he does, Damon becomes more and more
brilliant in my eyes. He did not disappoint here. In fact, it was his
believability, liability and rich skills that brought “Zoo” up a
notch in my book. As did the flawless Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who plays Damon’s
7-year-old daughter Rosie. She somehow managed to come across as adorable,
believable and loveable without marring the image with any saccharine-tinged overacting.

 

Scarlett Johansson, while decent and charming, seemed a bit
miscast as the eclectic zoo employee. But Thomas Haden Church, who plays
Damon’s brother, was a happy surprise. The movie, based on the British novel by
the same name, does take on a slightly British feel to it, especially when you
consider the multiple layers of supporting cast. Overall, though,
“Zoo” is a good movie to watch with your whole family. No, it’s not
going to throw over some of Crowe’s other gems in the popularity race, but
it’ll hold its own. Even if you don’t walk away with a “Show me the
money” phrase that will linger long after the film is collecting dust on
the shelf.

 

Extra highlight:
“We Shot A Zoo: Go Behind the Scenes”

 

What to serve for dinner: Since “Zoo” is based on a British
author’s book, let’s serve up some food from his homeland. Try Toad in the Hole
(www.bbcgoodfood.com).

 

cup plain flour (a little less than cup)

tsp English mustard powder

1 egg

1 1/3 cup milk

3 thyme sprigs, leaves only

8 plain pork sausages

2 tbsp sunflower oil

2 onions, peeled and sliced

1 tsp soft brown sugar

2 cups beef stock

 

Make the batter: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Tip flour into a
large mixing bowl and stir in the mustard powder with a good pinch of salt.
Make a well in the center, crack in the egg, then pour in a dribble of milk.
Stir with a wooden spoon, gradually incorporating some of the flour, until you
have a smooth batter in the well. Now add a bit more milk and continue stirring
until all the milk and flour has been mixed together.

 

The batter is ready: You should now have a smooth, lump-free
batter that is the consistency of double cream. Tip it back into the jug you
measured your milk in, for easier pouring later on, then stir in the thyme. Use
scissors to snip the links between your sausages, then drop them into a
9×12-inch roasting tin. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil, tossing the sausages in it
to thoroughly coat the base of the tin, then roast in the oven for 15 minutes.

 

Cook the batter. Take the hot tray from the oven, then
quickly pour in the batter – it should sizzle and bubble a little when it first
hits the hot fat. Put it back into the oven, then bake for 40 minutes until the
batter is cooked through, well risen and crisp. Check after 30 minutes. If you
poke the tip of a knife into the batter in the middle of the tray it should be
set, not sticky or runny.

 

Make the gravy. Soften the onions with the remaining oil in
a large nonstick frying pan for about 20 minutes, stirring often, until they
are golden brown. Sprinkle in the sugar for the final 5 minutes. Add the
spoonful of flour, then cook, constantly stirring, for 2 minutes, so it coats
the onions and there is no dry flour left. Gradually pour in the stock,
stirring well to make a smooth sauce. Bubble for 4-5 minutes to thicken, then
season. Cut the toad in the hole into large wedges and serve with the gravy
spooned over.

 

 

What to talk about over dinner: Would you ever buy a zoo? Are zoos inhumane or
necessary to preserve species? What is the best zoo you’ve ever been to? What
is your favorite animal? What zoo-type of attraction would you buy if you
could? If you needed a fresh start in life, what would you do? Who was your
favorite character? What is your favorite Matt Damon movie? What is your
favorite Cameron Crowe film? Catch phrase? I’m sort of partial to “I gave
her my heart, she gave me a pen.”

This entry was posted in Family Films by Kyra Kirkwood. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kyra Kirkwood

Kyra Kirkwood is an award-winning journalist who combines her love of movies and good food in her "Dinner and a DVD" column. Get your week started right with her "Meatless Monday Movies" every Monday, and prepare for the weekend with another "Dinner and a DVD" column on Fridays. "My mama always said, 'Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.'" Forrest Gump

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