Cameron Crowe has a sweet tooth when it comes to films. He’s concerned with characters and emotions (not to mention Seventies rock, too, for that matter), and happy endings where everyone feels bet

The director’s latest, and first in seven years, We Bought A Zoo, is unashamedly a Crowe movie: it’s irresistibly feel-good and proudly crowd-pleasing. 

Matt Damon is Benjamin Mee, who, after his wife dies of cancer, quits his job as a journalist in the city and moves his family (seven-year-old daughter Rosie and teen son Dylan) to the countryside to run an ailing park. Despite numerous financial challenges, a tough zoo inspector, and his total lack of wildlife and animal knowledge, he sees this relocation as the way for the family to move on.

A uplifting film about death, in many ways, Zoo is formulaic in premise – its narrative destination is never in doubt – but features a host of warmly drawn characters (the zoo’s oddball staff include a handyman with a monkey on his shoulder and Scarlett Johansson’s improbable zookeeper) and emotional truth. Mee’s confrontation with his son is a particularly wrought scene and it’s his struggle to overcome his wife’s death that drives the film. 

Thomas Haden Church as Damon’s brother injects some much-needed cynicism – he’s always sceptical of the zoo-plan – but it is the honesty, aided by Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi’s winning score, that makes the film, and it’s most saccharine moments (opening day in particular!), triumphant rather than tiresome.  

%TNT Magazine% stars 4

Good for: Seeing Crowe back on track after 2005’s dire Elizabethtown