We Bought a Zoo – Movie Review

By Stacey Tuttle

“You just need like 20 seconds of insane courage, and then something great will come of it.”

Benjamin Mee

In a nutshell, We Bought a Zoo is based on the true story of a man who, grieving the loss of his wife, decides his family needs a change—and he makes a big one.  He buys a new house for his family which happens to be part of a dilapidated zoo…and sets about trying to restore it.

Of course, everyone thought he was crazy, but in his defense he makes a statement that has been a guiding principle of his since his youth.  He says, “You just need like 20 seconds of insane courage, and then something great will come of it.”  Throughout the movie there are these great moments where someone has to make a decision of “insane courage” – the moments where courage is needed aren’t long, but inevitably something great does come from doing the courageous thing.

I keep thinking about that statement.  How much of life really is determined by just a few seconds of insane courage?  How many times in a lifetime do you need that 20 seconds of courage to say, “Yes” or “No” or “I’m sorry” or “I love you” or “You were right, I was wrong” or “I forgive you”?  And how many times in a lifetime does it take courage, not to do something for someone else, but to believe or trust something someone else says or does for you?  For example, have you ever found that it takes courage for you to trust it when someone who has hurt you asks for forgiveness,
or apologizes, or says they really do love you? Additionally, (and maybe you don’t struggle with this), I know for many
people it takes courage just to believe they are loved, or likeable, or attractive, or worth…well…anything, really.

As I think about that statement, however, I think there is another kind of courage that life requires. There is that 20 second courage that helps you jump a hurdle that you’re facing, helps you do the big gesture or the big thing.  I think however, if there’s a 20 second courage there’s also a 20 mile courage.  This is the other kind of courage that we
need; it’s the courage to keep on running the marathon[1].  It’s the courage to face another day of depression or chronic pain.  It’s the courage to press on day after day at a job you don’t like or to stay in a rocky marriage knowing it’s going to be a long, painful road to find healing.  It’s the courage to keep on living when you’ve lost a child or don’t know how you’re going to eat that day.

If you find yourself in need of courage, any kind of courage, I encourage you to turn to the Lord, your “ever present help in times of trouble[2],” who gives you not a “spirit of timidity [or fear], but one of power and love and self-discipline[3].”  He also gives you wisdom, if you ask for it[4], to know when impulsiveness and 20 second courage are not the same thing.

If you’re in the middle of some marathon in life, discovering just how much difference/distance there really is between 20 and 26.2 miles (see footnote #1)—let me tell you, Jesus has come to mean the most to me in these times.  I have clung to verses like, “So do not fear for I am with you, do not be dismayed for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right arm.[5]”  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.[6]”  Peace beyond understanding – that’s fantastic!  I need peace that is wholly beyond my circumstances (and my understanding) about as much as I need
contentment that is wholly beyond my circumstances…and we can find both of those things in Christ alone[7].

I take courage in the fact that God loves to bring life and hope to things that are desolate and wasted. For proof, just look at Jesus’ miracles—He gave sight to the blind, made the lame to walk, created food for thousands out of a meal for one, he even raised the dead.  The Old Testament speaks to this as well.  I cling to Isaiah 61:1-3, “…the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”

I think courage and hope are closely linked.  If I have hope that good will come of it, I find it’s much easier to find courage to face it.  If, however, I have no hope of a good outcome, then I have no heart, no courage; I just give up.   What’s the point, anyway?  So when I think of verses about courage, (especially the 20 mile kind of courage) my mind immediately turns to verses which give me hope.  One of my personal favorites is this, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.[8]”  Achor means trouble, by the way.  So, it’s not just that your place of wilderness is a place you are going to leave, but even more extraordinary, it’s a place where God will give to you your nourishment, your vineyards.  Your place of trouble is where God gives you a door of hope.   Be encouraged, have hope—this thing you are facing which requires your courage is the very place in which the Lord will supply what you lack.

*Disclaimer: This is not to say that everyone will find peace beyond understanding, or hope, or a reversal of their bad
circumstances.  I am speaking specifically to those who look to Jesus and are willing to obey him.  Deuteronomy 30 (SO worth the read-I love that chapter!) makes the connection between obedience and blessing, and, alternatively, disobedience and curses, abundantly clear.  We cannot expect him to turn our Valley of Trouble into a door of hope if we continue to walk in rebellion and refuse to look to him as our King and our source of life.

Questions for Discussion

  • What kind of courage comes more easily for you, the 20 second kind of courage or the 20 mile kind of courage?
  • What times in your life would (or did) 20 seconds of bravery make a big difference?
    How did you respond?  Would you do it differently if you knew then what you know now?
  • One of the things Benjamin and his son Dylan needed 20 seconds of courage for was to tell each other what they wished the other one would say.  How much courage would it take for you to tell someone in your life what you wished they would tell you?  How much courage would it take for you to ask someone what they would like for you to tell them?[9]
  • Are there any situations in your life that require the 20 mile kind of courage? What helps you find courage to face them?
  • Do you have any verses in the Bible which you look to to find hope and courage?
  • If you could trust that God’s promises are true, and that he really does have a plan for your life, a plan to “prosper you and not to harm you”[10]—how much difference would that make to your life, especially in those 20 mile courage areas?
  • Have you ever discovered a vineyard springing up in the middle of your wilderness? Explain.

Check out quotes from the movie here.


[1] I know, a marathon is more like 26 miles—but that wasn’t so catchy.  I’m speaking in generalities.  Let’s be honest, for us non-marathoners, 20 miles, 26 miles, 26.2 miles…really, what’s the difference?…it’s all too long to even think about running anyway!

[2] Psalm 46:1

[3] 2 Timothy 1:7

[4] James 1:5

[5] Isaiah 41:10

[6] Philippians 4:5-7

[7] Paul speaks about that kind of contentment in Philippians 4:11 and following.

[8] Hosea 2:14-15a

[9] See the quote page for specifics on this!

[10] Jeremiah 29:11