Monsters University

Monsters University is one of the better prequels that you will see. While it’s not as fresh as Monsters, Inc. the laughs aren’t quite as big, and the message is a lot more predictable, it’s still a lot of fun and the voice acting is top-notch. That it gives plenty of respect to its predecessor helps Monsters University quite a lot.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released June 21, 2013

Written by Dan Scanlon, Daniel Gerson, and Robert L. Baird.

Directed by Dan Scanlon

Starring Helen Mirren, Aubrey Plaza, Julia Sweeney, Bonnie Hunt, Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Alfred Molina, Steve Buscemi, Nathan Fillion, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, John Krasinski, Bill Hader, and John Ratzenberger.

Rated: G

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Mike Wazowski (Crystal) has been dreaming of attending Monsters University since he was around the size of a pea. When he finally makes it there, determined to be a scarer, the odds seem stacked against him. How could a one-eyed walking green grape that talks with a New York accent ever be scary?

Making things harder and worse is Sullivan (Goodman), a big, naturally scary monster that comes from a long line of good scarers.

These two butt heads in their first days at MU, getting both of them in trouble. In order to redeem themselves, they have to learn how to work together, helping a team of scarer rejects become the champion scarers at the university in order to get back into Dean Hardscrabble’s (Mirren) good graces.

As they fight to become the best scarers that they can be, they make friends and enemies with all kinds of characters, one being Randy, who we remember was their sworn enemy in Monsters Inc. But in this prequel, he’s their friend. It’s nice to see how the bad blood came between these monsters.

We also meet Jonny Worthington (Fillion), a smug scarer whose fraternity is basically the royal blood of the university. This guy and the pride of Mike and Sully serve as the villains of the story in Monsters University.

Critique

As Disney/Pixar has become quite adept at doing, Monsters University delivers plenty of clever laughs for all ages, packaging a nice message and a story of a person or people who have to overcome their pride in order to win the day.

Formulaic? Of course. Formula is familiar and Disney/Pixar is a pro at serving up well-polished stories and characters and fun dialogue. Helping things along are all of the very talented voice actors. Also helping the movie stay entertaining is a cast of interesting side characters, each with their own quirks.

Made up of fun, freshness, and the familiar, Monsters University entertains for all of its 104 minutes, surprising the audience at times with its heart and understanding of relationships.

This is a well-crafted movie that knows how to hit all of its marks without being too obvious about being so smart.

Go ahead and give Disney some of your money; you’ll enjoy this one. Monsters University won’t change your life or even leave you with lingering questions, thoughts, or memories of the movie, but it’ll entertain you.

Content warnings: Cartoonish, silly violence and a scene or two of child-scaring.

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 5          Overall: 4

Be a sharing monster and spread this review and website all over the place. Seriously, go ahead. If you don’t, a possessed grape from New York will find you and scare you in your sleep.

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Big Miracle

Big Miracle is a surprisingly effective movie. This is probably a combination of the fact that it’s based on a true story, some very good acting, outstanding casting, and a lean script.

Here’s a preview:

The deets:

Released February 3, 2012

Written by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler (based on the book Freeing the Whales by Thomas Rose)

Directed by Ken Kwapis

Starring Drew Barrymore, Kristen Bell, John Krasinski, Tim Blake Nelson, Ted Danson, Rob Riggle, Stephen Root, Vinessa Shaw, Dermot Mulroney, and John Pingayak

Rated PG

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Adam Carlson (Krasinski) has been stuck in Alaska doing small news spots for 4 years and he is eager to get down to the lower 48. Then he finds three gray whales that have become trapped by rapidly freezing oceans.

Suddenly his story on the whales is causing huge waves all over and Barrow, Alaska, is inundated with myriad crowds of volunteers and media. It’s the story of the decade. Adam has his ticket to the big time. The problem: he’s a good guy who wants to make a difference more than he wants a huge career.

Adam’s ex-girlfriend Rachel (Barrymore) is a serious Greenpeace activist who comes tearing onto the scene to do everything she can to save the whales. She is manipulative, grating, and ruthless. She’s also, at her heart, a true lover of animals and nature and when you get her to quiet down, you see her soul.

Jill Jerard (Bell) is a struggling LA reporter who is trying to get a big story. She jumps at the opportunity to follow the story of the whales and through a bit of luck, she and Adam get a major scoop on one of the major developments in the story.

So here are two reporters, both with big dreams, but both with, as it turns out, very different core values.

Add to the story of these three that of the Inupiat people who depend on the ocean as, essentially, a larder or a garden. They want to harvest the whales for food and feel, rightly, that they have a right to. But they don’t want the media horde to depict them as savages.

Then you have a young Inupiat boy who idolizes Adam and all things pop culture. You also have two Wisconsin men with a crazy invention that might actually make a difference. You’ve got a callous oil tycoon, J.W. McGraw (Danson), who realizes it could be a huge PR coup if he aids the rescue effort- and it turns out he’s not so callous.

You’ve also got Colonel Scott Boyer (Mulroney), a gruff sky crane captain who sees through the PR stunt and has to try to do the impossible with a hover barge. He becomes the face of the American military’s rescue efforts.

The characters, along with the tremendously engaging whales, are why this movie works so very well. People who are very flawed, very busy with their lives, who are willing to give all they have to save the helpless whales. It helps that the actors do a very good job.

After several failures, this entire group must come together to try a creative and nearly impossible solution to the whales’ dilemma.

Critique

Despite its intermittent predictability, Big Miracle is a satisfying film. The right pieces are in the right place, and some of them are really golden. When Rachel plunges into the water, brash and determined to do things her way, the next few moments take you by surprise with the feelings evoked. When Adam and Jill are doing a story while a very sad thing comes to pass, Adam deciding to live his deepest values is a very nicely done moment.

The story is of course based on a well-known series of true events. It’s a very engaging story, just as it was when it actually happened. Real news footage is blended expertly into the narrative, lending more weight and impact to the experience.

The filmmakers deciding to focus on the characters surrounding the event was a great decision. We get to know people who seem just like us but who make us want to be more like them as they find something better in themselves in their efforts to help the whales.

Some rather stock semi-villains soften some of the punches, and the fairly useless romance between Adam and Rachel is a throwaway. That said, Big Miracle is a welcome, heartwarming film about what people can do when they look beyond themselves.

Note: stay through the first set of credits; you get to see the actual people involved in the story.

Content warnings: some very mild profanity and some tense moments

Writing: 4          Acting: 4.5           Overall: 4

You will find that my review meshes well with the smarter reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes. The other reviewers are just wrong. Share this with them to show them the truth.

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