Saturday, August 13, 2011

Reel People: Matt Damon is Benjamin Mee

The movie is We Bought a Zoo. We Bought a Zoo is based on the memoir We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals that Changed Their Lives Forever by Benjamin Mee. The film is directed by Cameron Crowe, with a screenplay adaptation by Cameron Crowe and romantic-comedy screenwriter Aline Brosh.

Benjamin Mee

Benjamin Mee was a freelance writer for the Guardian writing do it yourself articles for the Guardian UK, as well as his own book published in 2005: The Call of DIY: A Toolkit of Practical Wisdom.

After living in England for most of his life, his wife Katherine and their two young children (Milo & Ella) moved to the French countryside where there family took on a substantial remodel of a property and tried to live the simple life. They had married in 2004 after being together for nine years.

It was during this time that two big events happened in the life of Benjamin's family. His wife, Katherine Mee, was diagnosed with brain cancer when a life threatening tumor was discovered. The other event was that his father died, leaving his mother (mum) Amelia a widow living alone.

In the midst of these events, and particularly with the death of his father, that Benjamin Mee encountered that the struggling Dartmoor Zoological Park was up for sale (his sister Melissa sent him the sale information in the mail with a note "your dream scenario" attached.).

The struggling zoo was in disrepair, and while Mee had no zoological experience, he was intrigued by the very large "do-it-yourself" effort, and saw the park as an opportunity for him and his family to be closer together, particularly so that Benjamin could be close to his mom.

October 20 2006, Ben's 76-year-old mother, brother Duncan, wife and children (Milo, aged six, and Ella, four) had bought the park and moved into the 12 bedroom house on the 30 acre property, buying the house with the proceeds from selling there mom's house. They had 10 days of zoo running cost in the bank. (The cost of buying the zoo was 1.1 million pounds).

After a struggle to get finances in order, the zoo repaired, enclosures updated, and appropriate staff, the zoo would open up to the public in July, 2007. Prior to the zoo opening though the Mee's met another struggle with the death of Katherine.

After the return of the brain tumor in early 2007, Katherine experienced a steep decline in health and died March 31, 2007 despite every attempt to bring her back to health through traditional and experimental treatment options.

Yet, the zoo still opened, with a rebranding (a name change from Dartmoor Wildlife Park to Dartmoor Zoological Park), as well as some added boost from a four part documentary series aired on BBC Two called "Ben's Zoo" which ran towards the end of 2007.

The zoo remains open today owned by the Mee's where he lives with his brother Duncan, mother, and raisees his two children.

Benjamin Mee wrote his book We Bought a Zoo, which was purchased in 2009 by 20th Century Fox film studios to be made into a feature length film.

We Bought A Zoo

In addition to Matt Damon playing Benjamin Mee, other star cast fills out the film. For roles of his family members, Thomas Haden Church plays the part of Duncan Mee, and Stephanie Szostak plays the part of Katherine Mee.

It would appear that the names of the Mee children have been changed in the film to Dylan and Rosie played by Colin Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones.

Scarlett Johansson plays what seems to be a lead role in the film as Kelly Foster, the park's caretaker who had been at the park prior to Mee's purchase, and Elle Fanning plays the part of Lily, Foster's niece.

Patrick Fugit plays the part of handyman Robin Jones.

Matt Damon's not a stranger to biographic films, and with a prime award season release date, I can't help but ask if Matt Damon will receive an Oscar nomination (and maybe even a win) for his portrayal of this Real (Reel) Person.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In the movie it shows a romance blossom between Kelly Foster the head zookeeper and Mee, but I see from reading numerous articles that Mee has a different girlfriend. I'm curious if he and the real Kelly ever had a relationship or if that was just some Hollywood addition?