On May 25, I took a plane from Cleveland to Atlanta and then from Atlanta to Lima when I started my month-long missions experience in Peru and Ecuador. On that second flight, which was about six hours or more, we had time for a couple in-flight movies. I was very thankful that both the movies they showed us were ones I hadn’t seen before, and they were both fairly decent. The first one they showed was “We Bought a Zoo” (the other, if you’re wondering, was the new “Mission Impossible” movie). I heard mixed reviews about Cameron Crowe’s new family movie, and I never ended up seeing it. But ignoring some of the clichés about the deceased parent that I’ve seen in other family movies, “We Bought a Zoo” was pretty entertaining, thanks to Crowe’s direction and some good performances from Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson.
Damon plays Benjamin Mee (a real person who wrote the memoir that inspired this movie), a recently widowed man whose children, teenage Dylan (Colin Ford) and seven-year-old Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), are having trouble adjusting to their mother’s death. But one day, Benjamin decides to move his family to a nicer house so they can start anew. They find a really nice house on really nice property, but there is one minor detail: the house is next to property that is an old abandoned zoo. Does that stop them from buying the house? Heck no! And the Mee’s move in to Benjamin’s and Rosie’s delight and to Dylan’s disappointment.
When they arrive, Kelly Foster (Johansson), the twenty-something lead zookeeper at this Rosemoor Animal Park introduces herself and her team to the Mee’s. But in private, she confronts Benjamin about what he thinks he’s doing. She can’t understand why Benjamin would move with his family to this property that no one’s cared about for years. Benjamin’s response: “Why not?” More on this later.
Through the rest of the movie, a bunch of things just happen, I guess. Benjamin finds out that his wife left me a large sum of money that will allow him to stay on the property and even re-open the zoo. A local zoo inspector (whom most of the staff hates) comes in before they can re-open and gives his approval just in time. Lily (Elle Fanning), Kelly’s cousin who is about Dylan’s age and also helps out at the zoo, has a crush on Dylan early on, and the two eventually “fall in love”—if you can call two kids in their early teens in a crush “falling in love”. And eventually, despite the threat of a huge storm the night before, the zoo opens to a huge crowd and regains its popularity.
The movie ends with Benjamin taking his two kids, with whom he has been able to fully reconcile, to the café where he met their mother for the first time. He walked past and saw her sitting by the window and was immediately smitten. And the film ends with him going into the café and demonstrating the start of the first conversation he had with his wife:
BENJAMIN: Excuse me… Why would an amazing woman like you even talk to someone like me?
And his wife, Katherine Mee (Stephanie Szostak), appears in the café booth (in Benjamin’s head, of course), and responds:
KATHERINE: Why not?
This last scene reveals why Benjamin decided to take a chance on buying the new house (and the zoo): he was moved by the chance his wife took when she decided to talk to him for the first time. And beyond this movie’s imperfections, that message really stood out to me. As a Christian, I may feel compelled by God to do something, which could range from giving more in my tithing to sharing my faith with a non-believer to moving from the United States to another country to serve as a missionary. But the comfort and safety of my life here at home can often keep me from taking that chance.
But God doesn’t want us to hesitate. When we are called to serve the Lord, we need to open ourselves to His plan and say “yes”. One of the most well-known verses about this in the Bible is in the book of Isaiah, where the prophet tells us: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” (6:8) Are we willing to forget about our comfortable lives and make that sacrifice when God calls us? My prayer is that we would indeed say “yes” to God today.