We bought a zoo

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Not recommended under 5, PG to 9 (Scary scenes; coarse language, too long for younger children)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for We bought a zoo
  • a review of We bought a zoo completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 2 January 2012.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 5 Not recommended due to scary scenes, coarse language, and the length of the movie
Children aged 5-9 Parental guidance recommended due to some scary scenes, disturbing themes and coarse language.
Children over the age of 9 OK for this age group

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: We bought a zoo
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild themes and infrequent coarse language
Length: 124 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is the father of two children; 14 year old Dylan and 7 year old Rosie. The family are battling with grief following the loss of their wife and mother six months earlier. Benjamin, a courageous journalist with many exciting stories of his previous adventures, is struggling to support his children’s different needs - Dylan’s behaviours that result in his expulsion from school and Rosie’s innocence and need to remember her mother.

In an attempt to provide his family with a fresh start away from painful memories, Benjamin buys a run down old zoo. The catch to his purchase is that he is required to keep the animals and the remaining colourful staff, including head zoo keeper, Kelly (Scarlett Johannsen).

Benjamin battles the challenges that arise with trying to get the zoo up to a standard so they can reopen as a successful business. Along the way, he has to continue to support his family as well as deal with his own grief.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Death of a family member; animal distress

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • Benjamin is chased by a small animal that lunges at him. In response, he screams at it
  • Benjamin kicks a barrel when frustrated
  • Dylan kicks a snake that is in his way
  • A bear is shot with a tranquilizer gun after escaping

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

Animals growl and bare their teeth (including lions, tigers and bears)

Snakes escape from a box and are scattered outside the family’s front door. One slithers over a young girl’s foot and she screams

A bear is walking down the road and claws a family’s car window while they are inside

Dead animals and live insects are talked about as animal feed

Dylan’s artwork is very dark and shows some images that may be scary for young children.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

The scenes described above may also scare or disturb children under the age of eight

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Children in this age group may also be disturbed by the idea of children losing their mother and the family reactions to her death.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Nothing of concern

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in this movie:

  • Subway
  • Ford
  • Apple
  • Century 21
  • Stella Artois

Sexual references

Nothing of concern

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • Flirting between two teenagers. They hug through a window
  • A kiss on the lips between Benjamin and Kelly

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Medication is shown on the bathroom shelf – it is inferred that this was the mother’s sickness medication
  • Medication is prescribed for animals (for depression and illness)
  • Adults are seen drinking alcohol in a bar

Coarse language

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • shit
  • arsehole
  • bullshit
  • hell
  • stupid

In a nutshell

The main messages from this movie are:

  • “20 seconds of insane courage can change your life” – Benjamin’s motto by which he had lived and uses to guide him when he buys the zoo
  • That people have different ways of dealing with grief
  • Following a dream – Against all odds, Benjamin, along with the staff at the zoo believe that they can make the zoo successful again and save the animals.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • bravery
  • love and support
  • family and friendship
  • teamwork/co-operation

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • that internalising your feelings can result in external behaviours such as stealing and other rebellious behaviours
  • Issues around keeping animals in zoos, saving endangered animals and euthanasia for suffering animals