cheek by jowl

Were We Bought a Zoo and The Descendants the Same Movie?

Descendents, We Bought a Zoo Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures, 20th Century Fox

It’s been a rough fall for single dads at the movies. Matt Damon has lost his wife not once but twice: first to a mutant bat-pig virus in Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, and again to a terminal disease in Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo. Meanwhile, George Clooney’s wife in The Descendants falls into a coma after a boating accident and (mild spoiler alert) never wakes up. We Bought a Zoo is a holiday tear-jerker about moving on; The Descendants is a dark comedy about trying to forgive. Only one of them, unfortunately, involves a plotline about a clinically depressed Grizzly Bear. But despite their tonal and zoological differences, these two movies have more in common than just a handsomely sad-sack single dad. In fact, in many ways, they deliver roughly the same moviegoing experience! Please consider the similarities, handily listed for you below. (Warning: spoiler alerts for both Descendants and We Bought a Zoo ahead.)

  The Descendants
We Bought a Zoo
Who is the lead character? Matt King (George Clooney), an inept but well-meaning single dad of two trying to keep his family together after his wife slips into a coma. Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon), an inept but well-meaning single dad of two trying to keep his family together after his wife dies.
Was this actor also in Ocean's Eleven? Yes (Danny Ocean). Yes (Linus Caldwell).
What is the older kid like? Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) acts out at school, says cruel things to her father, and pals around with a weird spacy stoner kid named Sid. Dylan (Colin Ford) acts out at school, says cruel things to his father, and pals around with a spacy pixie dream girl named Lily (Elle Fanning).
How about the younger kid? Scottie (Amara Miller) is a sensitive, troubled child with a gift for cursing ("motherless whore") in high-pressure situations. Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) is a sensitive, precocious child with a gift for cursing ("dick") in high-pressure situations.
Tell me about the dad's plan to bond with his children. Matt takes his two children on a Hawaiian adventure to track down his wife's lover. Benjamin takes his two children on a Southern California adventure to … buy a zoo.
Do his friends and family approve? No, but they bring microwave dinners by the house anyway. No, but they bring dishes of lasagna by the house anyway.
Does the dad express his distress through some sort of physical comedy? Yes, George Clooney does a funny run. Yes, Matt Damon does a funny punch-the-air freak-out.
How about through intense conversations with a being who can't respond? Yes, to his comatose wife. Yes, to a sick tiger.
Is a pain-in-the-ass Realtor involved? Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard), who was having an affair with Matt King's wife. Mr. Stevens (J. B. Smoove), who sells the zoo to Benjamin Mee.
What about a striking blonde woman who teaches dad about love? Julie Speer (Judy Greer), whose five-alarm hospital meltdown helps Matt let go of his anger. Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johnasson), whose five-alarm hotness helps Benjamin let go of his dead wife.
Does dad lecture a large group of people about choosing family over business? Yes. Yes.
Does dad's crazy plan save the family? More or less. Of course! This is We Bought a Zoo!
We Bought a Zoo vs. The Descendants: Same Movie?