This weekend, sit down with your family and enjoy the moving true story of a grieving widower and dad rebuilding his family while putting a whole zoo back together.

If you’ve seen the 2012 Matt Damon movie, you know the basic narrative.

We Bought a Zoo is the story of a widower and father of two, who, along with his family, buys a dilapidated zoo. He then embarks on the financially perilous, humorous, and unpredictable journey of renovating it.

The film is based on the mid-2000s true story of Australian-born Benjamin Mee.

While there are a few differences between the film and fact, the only deviations from the true story are that the zoo is located in Devon, England, not America. Also, chronologically, Mee’s late wife Katherine was alive for the purchase.

Multiple Challenges

The purchase of the zoo came with a two-part plan.

First was to house their family, and Mee’s recently widowed mother.

The second included unexpectedly saving 200 ‘exotic animals,’ which were set to be destroyed, should ‘a buyer for the property not be found.’

Then, as Mee recounted,

‘To make a challenge even more difficult, in the midst of dealing with escaping jaguars and troublesome adolescent vervet monkeys, Katherine began to experience symptoms again and it was discovered that her brain tumour had returned.’

The dad and inexperienced zoo director ‘found himself juggling the complexities of managing a zoo and getting it ready for re-opening while facing the consequences of his wife’s terminal illness and caring for their two young children.’

Mee explained reasons for the chronological adjustment, saying the scriptwriters ‘thought that [his wife dying five months into the renovation of the zoo] was slightly too much for an audience to take on in the middle of a film.’

Healing Together

He told WGTC that thematically, everything remains true to life. There’s the tension over licensing in time to trade; grief, humour, it’s all there.

Most important of all is how ‘the family in the film rebuilt itself, while rebuilding the zoo.’

Mee said, ‘The main thing is the regeneration of the family,’ how a grieving husband and father manages his relationship with his two grieving children.

Hollywood is infamous for doing things its own way, regardless of who gets hurt.

Tune in to the recently televised Johnny Depp/Amber Heard defamation trial as proof. Another example is the rift between Hollywood and late Dirk Pitt novelist Clive Cussler.

Despite the Tinsel Town “up yours” to the facts trend, director Cameron Crowe kept the integrity of the true story intact.

This contributed in a small way to Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson being able to give the family venture a timely injection of funds and publicity — thus saving the family from yet another tragic loss, by keeping the struggling zoo away from financial ruin.

Notably, the film itself became part of Mee’s dare-to-dad story.

Ben’s biographical outline aptly describes the series of events as ‘one man’s leap of faith, triumphing over personal tragedy, and the battle to succeed, whatever obstacles stand in your way.’

Not to overlook Matt Damon, who plays Mee in the film version of his book: in 2011, the father of four likened fatherhood to the end of The Grinch, where his “heart grows like five times. Everything is full. It’s just full all the time.”

When promoting We Bought a Zoo, expressing a love for the dad-life, Damon told iVillage,

“My kids gave me a whole second chance at life […] It’s like a whole new world.”

This year marks the movie’s 10th anniversary.

Mother’s Day this weekend makes for a good time to revisit the book or film. Mee’s journey is a reminder to cherish the loving women in our lives, as we reflect on We Bought a Zoo’s strong dare-to-dad themes, and soak in its humour.

About the Author: Rod Lampard

Rod, his wife Jonda, and their five kids are homeschooling veterans. Rod spent 12 years in management at Koorong, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Ministry & Theology, and is a writer for the theological, politically edgy news site Caldron Pool. Rod also writes for the Spectator. Find his personal blog here.

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