We Bought a Zoo (And a Consequent Pool of Tears)

“Mom, did you ever see We Bought a Zoo?”


“Well, you’re in luck, because I Bought a Movie.”

we-bought-a-zoo-poster05If in the four years since its release, you’ve been blessed enough to come across a movie called We Bought a Zoo, you know that I’m not lying when I say it was the cutest movie ever made.

First of all, it’s based on a true story. Which immediately makes it that much better. But, the basic story is as follows: Benjamin Mee (portrayed by the ever-adorable Matt Damon) is an adventure-junkie journalist with two kids, whose wife passed away six months prior to the beginning of the story. He’s looking for an escape from the sympathy and the endless memories of Katherine that surround him, so he and his kids – Rosie (7) and Dylan (14) – move to a new town, into a new house. A house which just so happens to be a zoo. Seeking a new adventure, he decides that they should take on the overwhelming responsibility of reopening the zoo, and the rest is cinematic gold.

***If you haven’t seen this movie, don’t read this blog post. Find the nearest Family Video or Wal-Mart and rent/buy this movie, THEN read this blog post. It’s a spoiler-palooza.***

What I want to do today is point out four things about this movie that you might have missed the first time, that will make you want to rewatch the movie and cry even more about it because it’s just so wonderfully made.

  1. “Sometimes, all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage.”

Okay, I know that this part isn’t really a secret. It’s one of the themes of the movie. But I just wanted to reiterate the progression of this line, because it’s pretty cool.

The first time it comes up is when Benjamin and Dylan have a heart to heart after their big fight. Benjamin asks Dylan what happened with Lily, and Dylan says “It’s like you embarrass yourself if you say something, and you embarrass yourself if you don’t.” He laughs like any father would, and then he says: “Sometimes, all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally 20 seconds of, just embarrassing bravery, and I promise you something great will come of it.” And it’s at this point that Benjamin’s entire character starts to come into perspective. But that’s not important right now.

Then Dylan takes 20 seconds, and uses it to go to Lily’s bedroom window in the pouring rain and tell her how he feels. I’d be a lot more excited about their relationship if they weren’t both less than 16 years old, but it’s still cute because Dylan used his father’s advice to make something great happen. And that would have been enough for any movie, to take a line like that and use it twice to make a connection. But this movie took it even further.

288125_075Next, we find out where the philosophy came from: Uncle Duncan. Benjamin’s brother, who is a prevalent character throughout the movie, but serves a somewhat odd purpose. He’s primarily the naysayer in Benjamin’s endeavors, but he is also constantly encouraging Benjamin to make things happen. So when the zoo finally opens, and the brothers have a “We were both right in a way and we found a good compromise and we’re brothers so we love each other” moment, we find out that Duncan gave the line to Benjamin when they were kids. So that’s really cool.

And it’s not even over. Because then at the end of the movie, when Benjamin takes Dylan and Rosie back to Little Dom’s to tell him the story of how he met their mother, he tells them about his 20 seconds. And as the story progresses in slow motion and he recreates it, he’s counting down the seconds. And that’s really really cool.

2. “I just can’t quite get a handle on it.”

tumblr_m27a1mYY9q1qhphz2o1_500This is the thing I picked up on my most recent viewing, the discovery of which prompted me to write this post. I think I’ll work backwards for the sake of effective storytelling.

This phrase, to me personally, is most memorable in the final scene of the movie. On opening day, when Benjamin and Kelly get their moment of romance. Kelly (who seems to constantly be living in her 20 seconds of embarrassing courage) tells him that she got a big crush on him and “just couldn’t get a handle on it.” The goofy phrase is accompanied by a goofy hand motion that kind of reminds me of when people on the highway try to get truckers to blow their horns. Oh and she kisses him.

Now, rewind to the scene after Benjamin has a breakdown over Sparr and leaves, and Kelly makes dinner and puts the kids to bed and waits on the porch until he comes back. When he arrives on the porch, he spills out everything about the way that he feels – mostly about missing Katherine and how he can’t run from her memories. And he ends the monologue with the same phrase, and goofy hand motion. That’s cute, right? She copied him and made it like a cute little inside joke.

Waiter_Ferris_FinalNope. Even better. When Walter Ferris arrives for the first time at Rosemont to do a pre-inspection inspection, just before he takes off walking, he makes a strange comment about how there’s something that’s off about “this place. I just can’t…get a handle on it.” As he twists his hand around in a strange, mock-handle turning way. After he walks out of the shot, Kelly and Benjamin make eye contact and exchange strange looks.

So really, Benjamin takes it from Walter Ferris and THEN Kelly takes it from Benjamin. I just love the continuity.

3. “She loved red kites, and blueberry Poptarts.”

It’s just a little thing that definitely snuck by me the first time I saw the movie.

When Benjamin is pouring his heart out to Kelly about missing Katherine, one of the things he says is that she’s everywhere, including the grocery store. He tells her that he skips certain aisles because they remind him of her, and that she loves red kites and blueberry Poptarts.

Have you ever noticed what everyone at the zoo is flying on opening day, and what all of the gift stands are selling?

Red kites.

A red kite flying against a blue sky.

4. “Why not?”

This one is the killer. It really is. Ready for the tears?

In the fairly early stages of the movie, Kelly asks Benjamin why he bought the zoo. He looks at her for a few minutes, and looks at the ground, and then he ever so slightly shrugs his shoulders, and says, “Why not?” Kelly is exasperated.

At the very end of the movie, to go back to the previously described scene in Little Dom’s, Benjamin is telling the kids about his 20 seconds of courage. It starts with him spotting the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen in his entire life through the window of the restaurant, and ends with him approaching her and asking “Why would an amazing woman like you even talk to someone like me?”

And what does she say?

“Why not?”


And with that, I would just like to leave you with this: If you ask me why you should go out of your way to watch this incredibly touching and heartwarming movie again, I only have one answer for you: why not?


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