By Dave Karger
August 16, 2011 at 01:00 PM EDT
Neal Preston


We Bought A Zoo is a movie of many firsts for Oscar-winning filmmaker Cameron Crowe. It’s his first film since 2005’s Elizabethtown. It’s the first time he’s directed something he didn’t originally write. (Crowe revised Morning Glory screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna’s initial screenplay, which was based on a book by British journalist Benjamin Mee.) And it’s the first time he’s worked with multiple non-human co-stars. For the film — in which Matt Damon plays a widowed father who moves his family to a decrepit zoo and works with the local California community to reopen it — Damon and Scarlett Johansson are joined in the cast by approximately scores of different animals (from 45 species), ranging from grizzly bears to bumblebees. Easily the best-known furry star is Crystal the Capuchin, who’s already been seen on screens this year with The Hangover 2 and Zookeeper. “Some species are really good actors like lions and tigers,” Crowe tells EW. “It’s great, the scuttlebutt that animal trainers will tell you. They’ll be like, ‘Are you working with primates? Get ready. They’ll do nothing you tell them to.’ Monkeys are like Mickey Rourke.”

We’ll see how cooperative Crowe’s cast members were when We Bought A Zoo opens on December 23.

For more on the film — and every big entry hitting theaters in the next few months — check out Entertainment Weekly‘s Fall Movie Preview, on stands now.

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This Week’s Cover: Fall Movie Preview

Dave on Twitter: @davekarger