Parental Guidance/We Bought a Zoo: Double Feature – Blu-ray/DVD Combo Edition

Parental Guidance directed by Andy Fickman:

There are certain actors/actresses that no matter what kind of mess of a film they are in I cannot help but like them.  In Andy Fickman’s (You Again, The Game Plan) Parental Guidance there are two of those kinds of actors.  No matter what Billy Crystal and Bette Midler star they end up entertaining me and they had to really be at the top of their games in this film.

Being a family means that you sometimes go through things together.  This is a film about a family that is going through exactly that.  Being a baseball announcer has been Artie’s (Billy Crystal – When Harry Met Sally, America’s Sweethearts) whole life, so when he is fired from his job he is like a fish out of water.  His wife Diane (Bette Midler – The Rose, First Wife’s Club) has been concerned about her and Artie’s lack of a relationship with their grandkids.  Their daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei – My Cousin Vinny, The Wrestler) is a type-A mother who does not spend much time alone with her husband, Phil (Tom Everett Scott – Because I Said So, That Thing You Do!).

When Phil asks Alice to come watch him in a race this opens up an opportunity for Diane to spend time with Harper (Bailee Madison – Just Go With It, Bridge to Terabithia), Turner (Joshua Rush – Puss in Boots, Playing For Keeps) and Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf – from television’s Being Human) and Artie to try and figure out where he is going in life.  Despite her initial doubts Alice does have to leave the kids with her parents and this is where Artie and Diane’s old school methods clash with the way the kids have been brought up.

Though there are some growing pains on both sides, but what ends up happening is everyone learns a lot about themselves and ends up getting what they need.

The film is meant to be a family comedy that deals with the generational gap between how parents brought up their kids and now how their kids are bringing up their own kids.  Now, right away when I tell you of the basic premise you will recognize that you’ve seen it all before and you would be right.  There is really nothing special about the plot.  We have all seen films that feature kids running around chaotically and screaming with their parents/grandparents chasing after them.  In other words a generic family movie.

What elevates the film to bearable is the team of Crystal and Midler.  Each is hammy as ever, but still effective.  Bette Midler is the quirky and zany grandmother who used to be a weathergirl.  She is one of the few actresses who could play opposite Billy Crystal and not get chewed up like the scenery.  Crystal is someone who has made a very nice living indeed off his priceless physical reactions.  As the perplexed grandfather he is relaxed, funny and a smooth talker.  All around him is chaos and he remains calm.  Yes, we have all seen his schtick before, but, hey, if ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Special Features:

-Deleted Scenes

-Gag Reel

-FXM Productions Presents: In Character With Billy Crystal, Bette Midler and Marisa Tomei

-Theatrical Trailer

-Sneak Peek

-Digital Copy

We Bought a Zoo directed by Cameron Crowe:

Some films have that old fashioned (and I don’t mean that in a bad way) feel to them.  They are like the films that the Disney would present and the whole family used to huddle around the television on Sunday evenings to watch.  All of them made you laugh and cry and feel good after you watched them.  Innocent. Sentimental (again not in a bad way).  That is exactly the feeling I got while watching Cameron Crowe’s (Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire) latest film, We Bought a Zoo.  Even the title reeks of the Disney film style.

A mere six months after the death of his wife, Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon – The Departed, The Adjustment Bureau) is trying to pick up the pieces of his life and carry on.  Mostly this is because he is now a single father to two children, young daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones – Footloose – 2011) and brooding teenage son, Dylan (Colin Ford – In the Name of the King, Push).  After Dylan gets expelled from school and Benjamin becomes tired of the “pity” jobs he is getting from his editor, he quits his job as a journalist at a Los Angeles newspaper, packs up the family and moves them to a rural area outside the city.  Benjamin is looking for a fresh start for his family.

Now this is not just any rural property as it also includes ownership of a zoo.  The zoo has fallen on hard times, lost most of its staff other than a few loyal individuals and has been closed to the public for a while.  In other words it is in a state of disrepair.  Benjamin is determined with the help of head zookeeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson – Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Iron Man 2) to get the zoo up to code and reopened.

While Rosie is extremely happy to be there Dylan becomes sulkier than ever.  He wanders off lost in his dark, graphic drawings making very little attempt to help get the zoo opened.  The only person he shows the least bit of interest in is Kelly’s 12-year-old cousin, Lily (Elle Fanning – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Super 8), who lives at the zoo.  The divide between father and son becomes wider than ever.  That pressure is added to when Benjamin realizes that he is out of money and does not have any left to get the zoo up to code to pass the inspection that is going to happen before the planned July 7th reopening.  It looks like Benjamin and his family might have to cut their losses, admit defeat and move back to the city.  This would probably lead to the zoo animals all being put down.  Does the Mee family have what it takes to get through this?

It works because nothing about it feels fake; it is genuine through and through.  The charm comes out of the film’s belief in happy endings and that nothing can defeat the human spirit.  Tons of energy and a can do attitude does not wear on the viewer, rather it wins you over.

It has been interesting to watch Matt Damon mature as his career has gone on.  He started off as the cute but wiseass guy who starred in films like Good Will Hunting and The Legend of Bagger Vance then transitioned into a action flick hero in the Bourne film series and has now in his 40s smoothly evolved into a socially conscious actor who can provide the narration for a documentary like Inside Job about the recent economic crash in the United States and also can play a widowed father of two kids.  In every portion of his career he has been believable in the characters he has chosen to play.  He, at this point in his career, is able to disappear into any type of role.

Cameron Crowe always seems to be able to tell a story the precise way needed to get it to pull the required emotions out of you.  He is an expert storyteller.  Crowe starts out this one a little slowly, but the second half of the film more than makes up for it.  You feel heartbroken and sad for a family that is going through a really rough patch and then Crowe brings about plenty of spunk that allows your heart to find the light in the dark.  The cuteness of the animals and the kids really helps towards that end.

If you want to split hairs about the film then you can take a pot shot at it by saying that it was quite predictable.  Yes, you know what the ending will be from the beginning, but it’s no matter.  Disney has made a lot of universally enjoyed films that have been predictable.  The heartwarming holiday family film will be enjoyed by the whole clan.

Special Features:

-Deleted & Extended Scenes

– Gag Reel

– “The Real Mee”

– “We Shot a Zoo”

– “Their Happy is Too Loud”

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