Movie Review - 'We Bought a Zoo' and 'The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn' Holiday pleasures We Bought a Zoo and The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn are pure entertainments — not high art, but solid family films that just want to show an audience a good time.
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Stirring Adventures, At Home (In A Zoo) And Abroad

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Stirring Adventures, At Home (In A Zoo) And Abroad

Review

Arts & Life

Stirring Adventures, At Home (In A Zoo) And Abroad

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This time of year there are two kinds of movies at the multiplex: Oscar hopefuls and movies that just want to show you a good time. Critic Bob Mondello says two of the latter, both aimed at families, are opening this week: "The Adventures of Tin-Tin" and "We Bought a Zoo."

BOB MONDELLO: The central character in "We Bought a Zoo" is a recent widower trying to raise two kids on his own, somewhat ineptly.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WE BOUGHT A ZOO")

MONDELLO: Now, arguably, if you get an answer like that from your six-year-old, you're doing fine. But with his family fragile after his wife's death, Benjamin - played by Matt Damon - thinks they need a change. So he buys a small, rundown country zoo, figuring maybe feeding porcupines is just the therapy they need.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WE BOUGHT A ZOO")

(SOUNDBITE OF ANIMAL SOUNDS AND A THUMP)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONDELLO: Damon is amiable and appealing in a part that's not asking him to stretch much. In fact, the only real surprise in "We Bought a Zoo" is that it was made by the writer/director Cameron Crowe, the guy responsible for such edgier, more off-beat pictures as "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "Almost Famous" and "Jerry Maguire." None of those can remotely be called a family film, whereas "We Bought a Zoo" is downright Disneyesque - in a good way.

It deals thoughtfully with loss and family dynamics, and whenever the plot threatens to become too predictable, Crowe deploys his secret weapon: Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who is maybe the most formidably adorable child in all of movies at the moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WE BOUGHT A ZOO")

MONDELLO: She's also the only person on screen who doesn't at some point get upstaged by the critters.

In "The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn," nobody on screen can be upstaged because there's nobody on screen, just pixels. Steven Spielberg made his first 3D adventure flick using a digital technique called motion-capture.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: SECRET OF THE UNICORN")

MONDELLO: Tintin is an intrepid boy-reporter. The Unicorn is a cargo ship sent by pirates, and the story is a globe-trotting treasure hunt, much like Spielberg's "Indiana Jones" movies, with loads of colorful characters.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: SECRET OF THE UNICORN")

MONDELLO: The faces in "Tintin" have been tweaked to look like the Belgian comic-book figures they're based on, but everything else - from city streets to a ship sailing improbably across a desert - looks eye-poppingly real. I'll leave to others the debate about whether motion-capture is essentially animation. Whatever it is, it's now persuasive enough that you can see how it'd appeal to someone like Spielberg, who's done pretty much everything you can do with a conventional camera.

Here, when a digitized eagle snatches an important scrap of paper from our digitized hero and flies with it in 3D off the screen into the auditorium, you can almost hear the director chortling, ooh, there's something I could never do with real actors. The joy he brings to the film's action is contagious. And if there's less to "Tintin" in the way of personality, nothing to touch "We Bought a Zoo's" Rosie for pure adorableness, for instance...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WE BOUGHT A ZOO")

MONDELLO: ...that's mostly because Spielberg is having too much fun with his digital toys to slow down for character-building. If you're going to capture motion, might as well cram in a lot of it; save the emotion-capture for another day.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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