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We Bought a Zoo was an ideal movie for Christmas Day. With it’s great, inspirational story and excellent cast, you couldn’t ask for better holiday entertainment.

Matt Damon stars as Benjamin Mee, an adventure writer who finds himself raising two kids on his own after the death of his wife. He decides to break the family out of its rut by moving out of the city and buying a zoo–complete with wild animals and a staff. Cameron Crowe works the magic he showed with Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire as he blends several intimate stories together into one cohesive film.

Benjamin trying to be a good father to his kids is the heartwarming soul of the film. The daughter misses her mom and is enamored to live at the zoo. The son feels distant from his dad and it takes father and son a long while to figure out how to communicate with each other. Of course getting the zoo up and running is a major plot of the film and it’s quite inspiring watching as Benjamin transitions from city boy to zookeeper. And with being a zookeeper comes the responsibility of the staff that came with the zoo.

Matt Damon is terrific in this movie and it’s a side of him we haven’t seen in a long while. There’s no sci-fi, no period piece, no slick reality, just a regular man trying to do right by his family. Damon seems very comfortable in this role and it’s perfection on screen. As usual Crowe is great at finding kids too. Colin Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones are his son and daughter. Ford plays the angsty teenager struggling through so many changes, including finding his first girlfriend, so well. Jones is adorable as the daughter who delivers encouragement to dad while being dazzled by her zoo home. Speaking of kids, Patrick Fugit, who played the kid at the center of Almost Famous, is here all grown up playing one of the zoo workers. Scarlett Johansson, as the professional zookeeper, and Thomas Haden Church, as Benjamin’s accountant brother, are also solid.

Now I’d like to get the book. From the blurb I’ve read there’s a pretty sizable difference between the movie and the book. The book, for example, takes place in England…the wife was still alive when the zoo was bought… and the zoo was bought as a family investment that included Mee’s mother and brother. It sounds like that will be a good story too.

Meanwhile, I’m glad Cameron Crowe made a great movie again. Elizabethtown was simply okay and Vanilla Sky mostly sucked. Hopefully whatever comes next from him will be the same.