We Bought a Zoo

Based on a true story.

Scarlett as: Kelly Foster
Genre(s): Drama | Comedy | Family
Written by: Aline Brosh McKenna, Cameron Crowe
Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Other Cast: Matt Damon, Colin Ford, Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning
Release Date: December 23, 2011
Production Budget: $50m
Total Worldwide Gross: $120m
Filming Locations: Thousand Oaks, California

This holiday season, acclaimed filmmaker Cameron Crowe directs an amazing and true story about a single dad who decides his family needs a fresh start, so he and his two children move to the most unlikely of places: a zoo. With the help of an eclectic staff, and with many misadventures along the way, the family works to return the dilapidated zoo to its former wonder and glory.

Production Info

Amy Adams, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Rachel McAdams were considered for the role of Kelly Foster.

Ben Stiller was considered to play Benjamin Mee.

Towards the end of the film, the real Benjamin Mee, Milo Mee (Dylan in the movie) and Ella Mee (Rosie in the movie) can be seen as the first family in line when the zoo is reopened. In the scene, Benjamin Mee is wearing what appears to be a Dartmoor Zoological Park cap, which is the actual zoo in England on which the movie is based.

When Benjamin Mee first meets the staff, Kelly mentions that there is a weak enclosure between the jaguar and the tigers. In the real Dartmoor Zoo, the jaguar escaped into the tiger enclosure.

Character Quotes

  • This is Buster. He’s our 650-pound North American grizzly. He was 770, but he’s been stressed out. You know, he’s moody. We had him on Paxil, but can’t afford it. So he’s occasionally depressed. He can still rip your arm off, though.

    They’re not called cages, they’re called enclosures. They haven’t been called cages in like a century. My brief marriage, that was a cage.

    I have a question for you. You’re some random guy from the city. No one in the zoo community has ever heard of you. You know nothing about animals. And you’ve moved into a dump. I mean, what kind of regular person just up and buys a place like this? Especially someone with kids. Why?

    You have no idea what you’re dealing with here.

    I’m 28. I never go out. I’m here every day. My girlfriends, they text me, they’re out living their lives, meeting guys named Brett, and I’m here shoveling shit. Bear shit!

    Welcome to your zoo, Benjamin Mee.

    I’m pretty sure this is none of my business, but I noticed that your kid really pushes your buttons. You give him a lot of rope.

    I’m a big fan of people being exactly who they are.

    The secret to talking is listening.

    I got a big crush on you, and I just can’t get a handle on it.

    Benjamin: Go home. Go out. Go to the city. Go find your girlfriends.
    Kelly: I think I’ll just find my pillow.

    Benjamin: I mean, a minute ago, he was into paper airplanes, and now he’s into portraits of decapitations. And they’re really good.
    Kelly: Yeah, well, what do I know? I still live with my mother. I’m not good with people.

    Benjamin: I’m worried Lily’s gonna hurt Dylan.
    Kelly: No, it’s gonna be the other way around.
    Benjamin: Well, how do you figure that?
    Kelly: ‘Cause she’s a farm girl, Benjamin. And, he’s like this exotic creature from the city.

    Benjamin: I want you to know, I think you’re incredibly pretty. Please, don’t take offense if I don’t hit on you.
    Kelly: I’d be offended if you did.

    Kelly: You’ve never done this before! You don’t know how this goes!
    Benjamin: I know exactly how this goes.
    Kelly: And I invite you to tell me about that sometime.

    Benjamin: I cannot let go.
    Kelly: I can.

  • Quoting: Scarlett Johansson

    On her character: Kelly is a very practical person, good-natured, and loves animals. She’s very much a person who gets it done and gets it done well and leaves no loose ends. This zoo and these animals are her whole life.

    On her character: She’s a very practical, salt-of-the-earth, rounded, motivated, independent woman. I find as I get older, it’s nice to move away from the ingénue category. It’s fun, and I’ve done very well by it, but it’s nice to be able to transition into women that come with a history, that are established.

    On Kelly’s initial wariness of the Mee family: Kelly thinks of them as yet another in a long line of owners who probably saw the zoo as their little project, threw some money at it, and then disappeared. However, she begins to see Benjamin take control of different projects and he seems to be totally dedicated and keeps sticking around. Through his apparent dedication she starts to believe in this guy and thinks, maybe this could be different.

    On her attraction to the script: It has this incredible dialogue I could wrap my head around. I also thought the story was very unusual because there’s something old-fashioned about it. It’s a film about family, about finding your passion and believing in yourself. It’s very real and gritty. It deals with overcoming your own fear. It has a lot of those gritty, real-life qualities that makes it reminiscent of the classic films of the 1970s.

    On working with Matt Damon: I’ve been a huge fan of his since I was kid, since he was a kid. I just think that he’s an incredibly generous actor and is unbelievably professional, unbelievably kind and so much fun to work with. He’s a lot of laughs when it’s that time and when it’s down to the work he’s just present and focused. He’s just a gem.

    On working with Cameron Crowe: I’ve always wanted to work with Cameron Crowe. I’ve auditioned for him several times for various projects over the last ten years, and I’ve always admired the way he worked with me. So when the opportunity came along with this project, I read the script, but I felt the character was sort of underdeveloped, so I wanted to talk with Cameron about it, which I did. I told him, “I don’t know what I can contribute to this, exactly, but this is what I want to see from the character. This is what I want to know about her,” and he was so into it. He said, “Yes! Tell me more. What do you see? I want to know how to expand it.” So we worked together to kind of build a relationship between the characters, and I think that part of the project was very exciting.

    On working with Cameron Crowe: Cameron is so collaborative and inviting—and not just with the actors, but with everyone. So he did a beautiful job of highlighting the humanity of this group of people banding together to build a kind of oasis. It’ll be a very positive experience for audiences—certainly, making the movie was one for me.

    Quoting: Cast and Crew

    Director Cameron Crowe: Scarlett brings a great humanity to the role that conveys Kelly’s ferociously protective spirit.

    Producer Julie Yorn: The great thing about Scarlett is she truly is a lover of animals and immediately understood and connected to that. It’s very different from any part she usually plays. People have such an expectation of her being the femme fatale. In this film she really gets to show another side.

    Co-star Matt Damon: The image projected from those magazine covers is an absolute bombshell and unbelievably glamorous person, so I was really impressed with how real and unadorned she can be. It’s a very believable and grounded performance.

    Critical Response

    David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: While most of them are given little to chew on, the cast is solid. In Johansson’s understated performance, Kelly is smart and perceptive, drawn to Benjamin but too serious about her work to flirt.

    Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Johansson brings to Kelly just the right blend of spunkiness and hard-won maturity.

    Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: Damon and Johansson do nice work keeping Ben and Kelly focused on fixing things, rather than flirtatious, which would have been the more typical way to go.

    David Denby, The New Yorker: Freed from her usual role as an updated Lana Turner, Johansson successfully plays a direct, tough-talking keeper, who carries around with her a heavy set of keys—a woman, her hair pulled back, who feels most comfortable in a plaid shirt and jeans.

    Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer: Damon, Johansson, and Fanning are such naturals that for long passages the contrivances of the screenplay by Crowe and Aline Brosh McKenna are not apparent.

    Awards and Nominations

    Below is a list of all accolades Scarlett has received for her role in the film.

    NOMINATED: Teen Choice Awards – Choice Movie Actress: Drama