Thursday, November 17, 2011

We Bought a Zoo

by Benjamin Mee
November 2011

This book kept catching my eye in catalogs and magazines, even though the book is a couple of years old.  I found out that there's a  movie based on the book coming out in a few weeks. Matt Damon and Scarlett Johannson will play the couple who decided to buy a small, failing zoo.

The movie is set in southern California, while the book is set in England.  Benjamin Mee and his wife Kathrine had been renovating a barn in southern France. Benjamin was a DIY columnist and Katherine was a graphic designer.  When his sister sends him an advertisement for a zoo-for-sale, Benjamin starts dreaming.  His whole family gets on board, with the exception of  a bothersome brother, because they have some inheritance money available from their recently deceased father. Benjamin's mother will need to sell her house anyway, so she could easily come to live at the zoo's on site director's house along with her son, his wife and two children.

In the middle of all of this upheaval, Benjamin's wife learns she has a brain tumor.  She is treated and recovers well, but sadly, the recovery doesn't last for long.  Still, Benjamin continues with his dream. With the help of friends, colleagues and original staff of the zoo, he begins to re-build the Dartmoor Zoological Park.
The real Mee family
The movie Benjamin Mee and Scarlett.

Most of the book concerns Benjamin learning the ropes not only of zoo management, but of animal care. It's an interesting look at what it takes to make a zoo work.
The movie seems to make its main character more of a novice than Benjamin Mee actually was. He started with some knowledge of animals.  He also didn't fall in love (at least not in the book) with a Scarlett Johannson. And he did need lots of expert advice and help in getting the zoo going, in spite of what the movie trailer implies.  Still, it might be a good movie.

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