Damon is extraordinary. He's heartfelt performance has a tough core of intelligence and wit.
There's a lot of fun waiting at We Bought a Zoo, but it's the feelings that run through every scene scene that'll make you glad you came.
Leonard Maltin, Indiewire
How often do we get to see a movie in which a loving family, faced with challenges, finds a way to reconnect and grow stronger? This may not be considered cutting-edge storytelling, but I can’t think of anything more relevant or worthwhile.
New York Post
Damon, who also did a great job playing a widower in the wildly different “Contagion’’ this year, is a commanding presence as he struggles to help his son deal with grief over his mother’s death. Damon brings an especially sensitive touch to scenes where Benjamin recalls his late wife (Stephanie Szostak) with love and affection, even as his relationship with Kelly begins to deepen.
This is Damon's show, and as we've seen twice this year in The Adjustment Bureau and Contagion, he has an everyman charm that makes you want to cheer him on. He carries the bulk of the film's emotional heft, in particular when revisiting the pure happiness of his life with his wife, seen in flashback and still photos played by Stephanie Szostak. Crowe knows instinctively how to calibrate each of these heart tugging moments, emphasizing the tiny details that spark our memories of those we've loved and lost. Some of the film's finest are the quietest, when the people in the midst of this great human adventure stop and take stock of their surroundings.
In the past, Crowe can justifiably be accused of getting a little heavy handed with the sentimentality, bordering on schmaltz. Some will no doubt accuse of him of the same here. A film this lacking in cynicism, a film this genuinely hopeful is a rare breed nowadays. We Bought A Zoo is a nearly perfect feel good film with heart and soul to spare.
But as always, every movie is made better by Matt Damon. He can ground the maudlin moments with honesty, and lighten the mood with humor. His range is tremendous and though his performance you believe in Mee’s struggle to reconnect with his kids, deal with his grief, and his desire to make the zoo work.
San Francisco Gate
The cadences of the film are equally soothing, providing inspirational ups and prefabricated downs, all of them weathered by Damon with a relaxed, assured grace. He's believable as a man who adored his wife, and he's believable - simultaneously, often in the same fragment of dialogue - as a man who might imagine himself loving again someday. "We Bought a Zoo" isn't the last word on grief, but it isn't meant to be. It's only a start.
Wall Street Journal
Matt Damon stars in, and gracefully carries, Cameron Crowe's family film about a widower who gives his two kids a new life by buying a rural house that comes with a zoo. It's really an achievement, when you stop to think of it, for Mr. Damon to switch from tough-as-nails Jason Bourne to tender-hearted Benjamin Mee, but he makes the transition look effortless.
New York Times
What Mr. Crowe’s films also share is his delicate touch with actors. Ms. Zellweger has never been better than in “Jerry Maguire,” which found both Mr. Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr. at their most appealing. Matt Damon, the star of “We Bought a Zoo,” is a stronger actor than those with whom Mr. Crowe often works, and the combination might initially seem off. Mr. Crowe leans toward lightness while Mr. Damon, who can do glib as well as the next star, likes to roam around in the shadows, so that even his comedies carry a sting (as with “The Informant!”).But this seriousness, which complicates his boyishness with pathos, gives ballast to a movie that might have drifted along on charm.
The creaks, groans and clichés of the screenplay, which was written by Aline Brosh McKenna (“27 Dresses”) and reworked by Mr. Crowe are, however, finally outstripped by the attractiveness of the performers, those with two legs and more, and especially by the tenderness that Mr. Damon brings to his role. Mr. Crowe doesn’t linger over Benjamin’s despondency.
Rather, he gives it gentle due in passages that remind you that there’s often a strain of melancholia in this director’s work, a sadness that suggests that Mr. Crowe intimately knows the darkness and uses his movies as a way to resist (or deny) it. Whatever the case, you may not buy his happy endings, but it’s a seductive ideal when all of God’s creatures, great and small, buxom and blond, exist in such harmony.
SA: What has been your favorite scene of all movies you’ve watched in your life?
Matt: Boy, that’s a tough question. There’s a scene in Rain Man that I always loved, with Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. At the very end of the movie, when Tom Cruise realizes that he has to send him back, and it’s just this dolly shot that pushes in, and they’re framed against this window, and it’s the two of them – it’s like a 50/50 shot, and it’s going in, and Cruise is explaining to him that he meant what he said and he had a great time with him, and at the end of it, he says, “I like having you for my brother,” and there’s this long pause, and he says, “I like having you for my big brother.” And maybe it’s because I have a big brother, that just always got to me. I don’t know if it’s the greatest scene of all time, but for me, it’s up there.
SA: I understand that there is a lot of music passion in the film and the soundtrack, and you were talking with Cameron about that. What are you playing on your iPod, or what’s your favorite music?
Matt: I would always have said that The Beatles were my desert island band, if you could give me one band. But I think that they’ve been supplanted by U2. If I had one band that I could take the complete works of, I would take U2 to a desert island.
SA: I know you’re used to working with big stars, but how was work with Matt and Scarlett on this film?
Cameron: Matt Damon is gonna be a wonderful director. He’s worked with so many really great directors, and I think he took lessons from all of them, so he’s the consummate pro but has the enthusiasm of a teenager. Same with Scarlett. You’d think that after all the movies and projects they’ve worked on, they’d be like, “What’s the next shot?” No. They’re alive with the opportunity of telling the story, and that’s consistent with all of the people that have become super famous making movies. The joy of doing it comes through in their performance, and it’s real. It’s who they are.
And then there's Matt Damon, of course. He couldn't hold a candle to Crystal the monkey, but he was pretty cool to work with, too, she said.
"Matt Damon was wonderful," said Maggie's mom. "Since he has daughters who are close in age to Maggie, it made it easy for him to play the dad role. He and Maggie would joke around and talk to each other in British accents between takes. It was a lot of fun for everyone to bring their families to the set."
"Matt would bring his family, so it was always a real family atmosphere," said Maggie's dad. "In fact, on one Saturday our family and Matt's family and Cameron Crowe all went to the Magic Castle, and another person from Newnan, Ken Scott, who's a magician, was performing there. It was really nice to know that even though these are big, Hollywood people that they can hang out with the rest of us. It was kind of neat."
Q: Why did you think Matt Damon fit this role?
Cameorn: I saw his parenting skills and how much he cared about that part of his life. He's one of those guys who's not always looking over your shoulder while you're talking to him, waiting to see who's coming in the restaurant, what bigwig he's going to connect with.
He's the guy with a BlackBerry going off about when homework starts ... You see this guy who's just filled with natural human nobility and also takes care of his job and also takes care of stuff at home. And I just thought that guy -- pounding on the kid's door saying [as Benjamin does to Dylan in the movie], ‘I'll teach you how to shave!" -- I can't make the movie without him.