What also helps elevate We Bought a Zoo from descending into utter cheesedom is Crowe’s trademark moments of levity. Whether it’s the montage where a school’s headmaster explains to Benjamin why his son’s dark paintings don’t exactly jibe with the school’s hippie-dippy vibe or the inclusion of a wide-eyed teen girl with a heart of gold (Elle Fanning, Super 8) who brings a sandwich to her crush every day at 4:00 just so she can see him, it provides some much-needed texture and contrast to some pretty heady subject matter.

Without giving too much away, the story itself has plenty of twists and turns along the way, too. Rather than relying on a slew of scatological humor and your basic “let’s make the sad dad fall in love again” storyline, the screenplay, which Crowe co-wrote with Aline Brosh McKenna (I Don’t Know How She Does It) rarely resorts to lame storytelling tactics, save for a few unsavory words that didn’t need to be there at all. Instead, it’s just the sort of movie that’s perfect for Christmastime—life lessons tucked into a rather appealing package.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Some social drinking.
  • Language/Profanity: A few expletives are sprinkled throughout including sh--, as-h-le and he--. A young girl calls someone a “di--,” which is played for laughs. God and Jesus’s names are taken in vain on occasion. A couple of instances of scatological humor. 
  • Sex/Nudity: No sex or nudity, just a couple of first kisses and a revelation that a character has been married before. Kelly is referred to as “hot.” Benjamin is encouraged to start dating again after his wife’s death.
  • Thematic Elements: Discussion of whether it’s in an animal’s best interest to be put down. Children dealing with the death of their mother in different ways (Dylan tends to act out by being a sourpuss, saying “whatever” to everything and making rather macabre art). 
  • Violence: Some scary—and potentially scary—interactions with fierce animals.
     

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blogFor more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.