Ballyhooed as his “first motion picture for all audiences,” Cameron Crowe directs a pleasing PG adventure about a grieving family that moves out of the city and refurbishes a fading animal park. Taking care of critters threatened with federally mandated euthanasia tracks with Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) healing after losing his wife. Putting down an aging regal lion may feel like the prospect—though not one ever implied by a flashback—of pulling the plug at his wife’s bedside. Mee quits his globe-trotting newspaper job, leaving behind house and haunts too linked to his late beloved. He resettles his resentful fourteen-year-old son and resilient seven-year-old daughter on an eighteen-acre facility that comes with a colorful crew lead by zookeeper Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson). Crowe works his trademark humanism, and the best emotional notes are hit with a decency and discretion. Maybe the superficial touches in “We Bought A Zoo” are the fault of co-writer Aline Brosh McKenna, whose earlier “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” “Morning Glory,” “The Devil Wears Prada” and “27 Dresses” cannot match Crowe’s “Almost Famous” and “Vanilla Sky.” Like Crowe, she favors plots with newspaper and magazine careers in conflict with love and family. The source is the 2008 memoir by a Guardian correspondent who moved his family from France to England, and wrote “We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Broken-Down Zoo, and the 200 Animals That Changed a Family Forever.” Crowe’s signature mixtape score cues Jónsi from Sigur Rós, Tom Petty, Wilco, Cat Stevens and Bob Dylan. With Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Colin Ford, Elle Fanning, John Michael Higgins, Thomas Haden Church, as well as a Binturong and a Zebu. 124m. (Bill Stamets)
“We Bought A Zoo” opens Friday.