And this continues our series of stories about buying a story and then ruining it.
As a friend of mine put it, “I didn’t know there was more to this story than what looked like a silly movie.” Well, there is. The book is an autobiographical tale about a British journalist living in Southern France who moved back to the UK and went in with the rest of his family to buy (and save) a zoo, against all odds. It’s an at-once romantic, pragmatic, and educational study of the animal kingdom, the value of persistence, and what it’s like to launch into such a high-risk yet high-reward (both financially and emotionally) business that you know nothing about. It delves into all kinds of topics, from homosexuality in the animal kingdom to losing a loved one to cancer.
And the movie could not have been more different.
What I don’t understand is why. There’s so much drama already in the story – why do you feel the need to mess it all up with a teenage romance, a phony excuse for why he’s getting into it, have him trying to go it alone (without his family), a deus ex machina in his (already dead) wife leaving him money to spend on the zoo, no one showing up on opening day BUT OH WAIT JUST KIDDING!, blah blah blah?
The drama was there already. You’ve got a wife who’s dying of cancer. You’ve got family members suing you to keep you from buying this zoo. You’ve got dozens of loan processors all but guaranteeing a loan and then backing out at the last minute. You’ve got animals escaping, animals you think have escaped (but turn out actually to be wild and indigenous to the region), and animals you have to give away, reducing the (perceived) value of the site.
They could’ve told this story – the one that was in the book – and though they obviously would’ve had to abbreviate it, and possibly combine a few characters, they easily could have made it into a great film. As it was, the movie was simply mildly entertaining slush.
Let this be a lesson to all: when the drama is there, don’t try to “add story elements” that the gurus tell you need to be there. Just tell a good story.