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Fox Sneaks We Bought A Zoo; Early Reviews

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 27, 2011 at 2:53PM

With theatrical box office more important than ever, the studios have gone back to a tried-and-true method of building word-of-mouth for movies they believe in--sneak previews. Disney has sneaked "War Horse" twice now, and Paramount threw "Young Adult" into key markets as well. Saturday, Twentieth Century Fox booked Cameron Crowe's bid to escape movie jail, "We Bought a Zoo," on 800 screens nationwide in advance of its December 23 release. I checked out the movie at L.A.'s Arclight.
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We Bought a Zoo
We Bought a Zoo

With theatrical box office more important than ever, the studios have gone back to a tried-and-true method of building word-of-mouth for movies they believe in--sneak previews. Disney has sneaked "War Horse" twice now, and Paramount threw "Young Adult" into key markets as well. Saturday, Twentieth Century Fox booked Cameron Crowe's bid to escape movie jail, "We Bought a Zoo," on 800 screens nationwide in advance of its December 23 release. I checked out the movie at L.A.'s Arclight.

Writer-director Crowe and screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna ("The Devil Wears Prada"), adapting Benjamin Mee's autobiograpaphical tale, have fashioned a smart family story comparable in appeal to a film like "Marley and Me," that should play well across generations. Matt Damon carries the movie as a recently widowed journalist/adventurer who in the past six months has lost his wife and job and has to move his two kids when his depressed older son (Colin Ford) gets kicked out of school. Mee uses his inheritance to buy a country house with a surprise attachment: a zoo complete with lions, tigers and bears, run by a motley crew led by fetchingly competent Scarlett Johansson (wearing refreshingly little makeup).

Crowe expertly balances charming animal escapades (yes, Damon gets chased by a porcupine and multiple snakes escape) and various financial and romantic stakes by keeping the dialogue sharp and the treakle to a minimum. (I laughed but did not cry.) Still, the film functions as mainstream family fare and should score with moviegoers over the holidays.

Fox reports that it sold out sneaks on the coasts as well as in the middle of the country "from New York to LA, Minneapolis to Memphis, Salt Lake City to Boston, Detroit to Orlando, Philly to Kansas City."

Here's THR: "Bottom Line: Cameron Crowe’s film has some rough edges, but it ultimately delivers thanks to Matt Damon’s moving performance.
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And HitFix: "It's just a film that wears its emotions right out front, and somehow, Crowe is able to brush aside any thoughts of what people will or won't think and just focus on building those moments that he does so well, those heartbreaking little moments of magic that have been the main currency of his career.  Cameron Crowe remains, as always, uncool.  And wonderful for it.  'We Bought A Zoo' is lovely, delicate, and absolutely worth seeing with your family this holiday season."
 

This article is related to: Reviews, Box Office, Matt Damon


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.