Story

Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is the father of two children – 14-year-old Dylan and 7-year-old Rosie. They’re all grieving following the loss of their wife and mother six months earlier. Benjamin, a courageous journalist with many exciting stories of his previous adventures, is struggling to support his children’s different needs. For example, Dylan gets expelled from school, while Rosie is innocent and needs to remember her mother.

In an attempt to give his family a fresh start away from painful memories, Benjamin buys a rundown old zoo. The catch is that he must keep the animals and the remaining colourful staff, including head zookeeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson).

Benjamin battles the challenges that come with trying to get the zoo up to a standard where it can reopen as a successful business. Along the way, he has to keep supporting his family and dealing with his own grief.

Themes

Death of a family member; animal distress

Violence

There is some violence in this movie. For example:

  • A small animal chases Benjamin and lunges at him. He screams at it.
  • Benjamin kicks a barrel when he gets frustrated.
  • Dylan kicks a snake that’s in his way.
  • A bear is shot with a tranquilizer gun after escaping.

Content that may disturb children

Under 8

In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, this movie has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under eight years. For example:

  • Animals growl and bare their teeth (including lions, tigers and bears).
  • Snakes escape from a box and are scattered outside the family’s front door. One slithers over a young girl’s foot and she screams.
  • A bear walks down the road and claws a car window while the family’s inside the car.
  • Dead animals and live insects are talked about as ‘animal feed’.
  • Dylan’s artwork is very dark and shows some images that might be scary for young children. 

From 8-13

Children in this age group might also be disturbed by the idea of children losing their mother and the family reactions to her death. 

Over 13

Nothing of concern

Sexual references

Nothing of concern  

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

This movie shows some use of substances. For example:

  • One scene shows medication on a bathroom shelf. It looks like it was the mother’s sickness medication.
  • Medication is prescribed for animals (for depression and illness).
  • Adults drink alcohol in a bar. 

Nudity and sexual activity

This movie shows some nudity and sexual activity. For example:

  • Two teenagers flirt together. They hug through a window.
  • Benjamin and Kelly kiss each other on the lips. 

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in this movie: Subway, Ford, Apple, Century 21 and Stella Artois. 

Coarse language

This movie includes some coarse language. 

Ideas to discuss with your children

We Bought a Zoo is based on the true story of the Mee family, struggling to cope with the loss of a wife and mother. They seek a fresh start away from painful memories. The movie includes themes and scary scenes that might disturb younger children. At 124 minutes, it’s also rather long for children under eight years.

The main messages from this movie include the following:

  • ‘Twenty seconds of insane courage can change your life’. This is Benjamin’s motto, which he has lived by and which guides him when he buys the zoo.
  • People have different ways of dealing with grief.
  • Follow your dreams. Against all odds, Benjamin and the zoo staff believe they can save the animals and make the zoo successful again.

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include bravery, love and support, family and friendship, and teamwork and cooperation.

This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues such as how keeping your feelings inside can come out in bad behaviour like stealing. You could also talk about whether it’s OK to keep animals in zoos, save endangered animals and euthanise suffering animals.