One of last year’s best family films, We Bought A Zoo warms the heart with its tale, or rather tail, of a recently widowed father who restores a zoo while rebuilding his family. Recently, we got the opportunity to interview the man who actually owned the zoo, Benjamin Mee.
Mee wrote a memoir detailing his experiences as the owner and it’s his memoir that the film is based on. Mee is featured in a 28-minute feature on the Blu-ray titled, “The Real Mee,” and he was also kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
Check it out below.
We Got This Covered: I was hoping you could outline your experience with the zoo for anyone who’s not familiar.
Benjamin Mee: About five years ago, our family was looking for a large house for my mum to move into, and the estate agency came through with a large house that happened to have a zoo in the garden, which we initially laughed at. But, once we visited the place, we fell in love with it and eventually, after a very long process, we managed to buy it and a fit of mishaps and adventures.
WGTC: How similar would you say the film adaptation of your story, We Bought a Zoo, was to the truth?
BM: There are some differences between the book I wrote and the final version of the film. The scenes are essentially, very much the same. The most dramatic thing was that my wife died during the process of regenerating the zoo. The script writers thought that this was slightly too much for an audience to take on in the middle of a film. They needed the chronology of it to let this happen before the attraction of the film and then pretty much everything else primal was thematically the same.
The family in the film rebuilt itself, while rebuilding the zoo. There’s the tension of whether or not we’d get the license to trade in time for the summer, which was a huge thing, make or break, if we hadn’t managed to catch the summer season on the first year then it would all have been for nothing, we would have had to sell and the animals would have been destroyed. But the main thing is the regeneration of the family, the father with his relationship with his two children, constantly referring to my wife, Katherine, who underpinned everything.
WGTC: What did your children think about the movie?
BM: My kids, I prepared them a little, and they were actually delighted. My little boy, is ten, and he really appreciated that the boy is a slightly dreamy artist, and my little boy, Milo, really is a very good artist and he’s a little bit dreamy, head in the book all the time. And, my daughter, Ellen, was really pleased she had the funniest line in the film that made the whole audience laugh. I think it was the most controversial one, though, she said to the inspector, ‘Everybody says that you’re a dick, but I don’t think you are’ and to everybody who said ‘No,’ or something like that, I do agree that it was a debatable sentence to include, though I thought it was appropriate.
WGTC: We know your schedule is tight, is there anything you’d like to leave off with?
BM: Now that you mention it, I do feel extremely lucky, Hollywood can be an unforgiving place, and once you start to be open and let your story be told, anything can happen with it and I could not have been luckier, because it fell into the hands of the producers at Fox, and director Cameron Crowe who distributes some of the most compassionate work in Hollywood, and, Matt Damon, who probably has the most integrity of any of the stars today. Yeah, sometimes I had to shut my eyes and look away, but overall, I think they made a fantastic film and I just have to give credits to them. I’m just grateful for the whole process.
Many thanks to Mr. Mee for the opportunity and be sure to check out We Bought A Zoo, now on Blu-Ray and DVD.