If you've ever seen a college comedy — or heck, just about any underdog story — you can probably predict every beat of Monsters University: an earnest, hard-working newcomer pursues his unlikely passions in a new environment, quickly learning that he is in way over his head. There's a quasi-antagonistic foil, one who might eventually become his ally (or heck, best pal!), and a majorly antagonistic authority figure, and probably a series of competitions that'll prove the worth of our lovable heroes. They'll lose the first round, but by some loophole be allowed back into the games, only to reign supreme in every subsequent feat of strength, ultimately achieving something in the vein of self-worth, or new friendships, or a car.
And it works. Sure, any genre-savvy adult might find Monsters U to deliver one of Pixar's less impressive plots, but it hits every mark in terms of entertaining its younger demographic — it is bright and lively, kooky and funny (while teenage Mike and Sully aren't half as witty as their adult counterparts, their goofy frat brothers offer enough good-natured quirk to make up for it), and illustrative of the all-important messages of acceptance of yourself, no matter what your limitations, and others, regardless of how much they veer from your ideals. While the rest of the campus sees Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) as a nobody, he's sure from the get-go that he's destined to be a great scarer, obsessing over every theory and formula behind the exhaustive study. Jimmy Sullivan (John Goodman), on the other hand, is universally beloved and admired, banking on his father's legacy to help him coast through a field that he knows to "come naturally" for him.
But both young "men" are thrown for a loop when it turns out that neither brains nor charisma alone can build an effective scare machine. You need the full package. Thus, the heartwarming banding together of this way-too-different-to-Ever-be-friends-oh-wait-this-is-Disney pair, resulting in the lifelong friendship that we stumbled into in Monsters, Inc. ... with one exception.
These are Not the characters we met in Monsters, Inc. — not the Sully, and definitely not the Mike.
Sure, the easy argument is that as teenagers, the fellas had different attitudes, different outlooks, different personalities. That the events of Monsters University helped Sully to learn a lesson about hubris, eventually becoming the upstanding hero that we first discovered back in 2001. But does that forgive the fact that we're faced with a relative in the new release? And what about Mike? In the original, Crystal sighs and whines as a nebbishy 9-to-5er, a glory hound who seems less like a lifelong scaring aficianado and more so a cog in the all-encompassing machine of the monsters' benignly Orwellian society. He's a wiseass who fibs and smack-talks, who fails to file paperwork and aches to clocks out early. Not an evolution of the Monsters University hero, but a separate character entirely. And, in earnest, a much funnier one.
As such, we wonder if the story would have been better served with a focus on two different characters entirely — perhaps the son of Monsters, Inc.'s James Sullivan, and a wide-eyed original character in place of the pseudo-Wazowski. Naturally, this is simply not good business. People signing onto a Monsters, Inc. follow-up want to see the characters they fell in love with, and would be far more likely to hitch wagons to at the very least a thin guise of said characters than to something altogether new. But with a much younger spirit than its predecessor, a younger mentality and as such a younger audience to please, it's worth noting that the people this movie is really reaching were probably not even alive when Monsters, Inc. came out.
We'd be more inclined to judge the film as a standalone feature if it didn't grab for off-references to Inc. every few scenes, peppering in jokes about Mike's canon inability to take a good photo (or to recognize when he has taken a bad one), the eventual decay of the first's villain Randal (Steve Buscemi), and about the mysterious existence of special agent Roz, among others. With constant reminders to the glory that was Monsters, Inc., a movie that painted a vivid world that University's hardly lives up to, longstanding Pixar fans are bound to face disappointment.
However, those noble cinephiles able to take the new release as its own dish, feasting on the sweet and tender parable about friendship and tolerance, and chuckling at some of the crazier side characters' likable antics, will find it to be just enough simple fun and feel-goodery. While Inc. and many of its Pixar brethren are stocked with entertainment for all audiences, this one's really more for the kids ... which is odd, because there's a scene of monsters playing beer pong.
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Set in a world inhabited only by motor vehicles Cars is sort of a cross between Michael J. Fox's Doc Hollywood and NASCAR. The main hero is a hotshot rookie race car named Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson)--an obvious homage to the late fast-driving Steve McQueen--whose one goal in life is to win the Piston Cup and bask in fame and glory. Yet on his cross-country trip to the Piston Cup Championship in California to compete against two seasoned pros (real-life legendary racer Richard Petty voices the reigning champion The King) Lightning finds himself unexpectedly detoured in the sleepy--and forgotten--Route 66 town of Radiator Springs. There he meets its colorful denizens--including Sally (Bonnie Hunt) a snazzy 2002 Porsche who owns the local “rest” stop; Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) the town’s rusty but trusty tow truck; and Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) a 1951 Hudson Hornet who rules the town with a steady hand er wheel. Together they all help the cocksure Lightning realize that there are more important things than trophies fame and sponsorship. If Pixar calls you come running so it isn’t at all surprising how impressive the Cars vocal line-up is starting with legendary screen icon Newman as the Doc. Come on being the race car driving nut that he is you think the 81-year-old actor would say no to voicing a 1951 Hudson Hornet who has his own mysterious past in the racing world? Hell no. The rest of the cast also seem to have a good time channeling their inner car from Wilson’s snarky speedster to Hunt’s cute and sexy Porsche a big-city lawyer who decides to get out of the fast lane. Supporting voices include Cheech Marin and Tony Shalhoub as Radiator Springs’ low-riding body shop and Italian Fiat tire shop owners respectively. Even George Carlin gets into the act as a groovy ‘60s VW wagon who sells “organic” fuel. Good stuff. Of course what Pixar flick would be complete without its comic relief? Although he’s no Ellen DeGeneres as a short-term memory impaired fish Larry the Cable Guy fills in nicely as the dim but sweet Mater the ultimate hick tow truck. Having been out of the directing loop since his 1999 sequel Toy Story 2 Cars marks Pixar’s golden boy John Lasseter return--and this is his big love letter to the splendor that is the automobile. Of course his demand for perfection took its toll. The animators had to come up with a new technique called “ray tracing ” which allows the car stars--that are metallic and heavily contoured--to credibly reflect their environments. Even with a sophisticated network of 3 000 computers and state-of-the-art lightning-fast processors that operate up to four times faster than they did on The Incredibles the average time to render a single frame of film was 17 hours. Still all that time spent pays off. Cars is a real visual treat with another firm grasp in storytelling. Sure it’s a bit of a vanity project and may shoot way over the kiddies’ heads making them squirm a little during the “slow” parts. But as one of the recently appointed top guns at Disney Lasseter can do just about anything he wants these days--and we are going to love it dammit.
She's a hip-hoppin' be-boppin' mean ol' nanny who whips a mean stew and your butt for not doing your homework—and now she's back! Alas we don't speak of the Mrs. Doubtfire sequel but rather that of Big Momma a.k.a. FBI Agent Malcolm Turner (Martin Lawrence). Agent Warner has cut ties with the FBI at the behest of Sherry (Nia Long)—who as you no doubt recall is the granddaughter of the real Big Momma—since she's pregnant with Malcolm's baby. But wouldn't you know that he gets sucked back in after a former colleague is killed. Posing as Big Momma he's hired as a nanny to a suburban family the deadbeat dad of which is involved in the murder and a crime plot. She does it all—cooks cleans dances and even runs down bad guys but it's a race against time to stop the potential national security crisis. That is a race against the film's (mercifully) short running time. Although Lawrence's resume includes some of the dregs of comedy it's hard to argue that he is truly blessed when it comes to physical comedy and comedic timing. He continues both trends here this time without the help of the breakthrough actors of the past two years Paul Giamatti and Terrence Howard who yes both starred in the first Big Momma's House. That means Lawrence's urban mania is truly on its own and absurd and juvenile as the film may be even film snobs can't hold back a few laughs at his Big Momma outlandishness. Longreturns for no more than a select few scenes and to provide a minor conflict in the story. The notable newcomer is CSI's Emily Procter as the sterile mother who hires Big Momma. She does a serviceable job as a suburban Petite Momma. Might she be the next Giamatti or Howard to bolt to bigger and better things in time for the next sequel? No.
Big Momma's House 2 is right up director John Whitesell's alley. He's the guy behind such misses—though not necessarily financially—as Malibu's Most Wanted and See Spot Run and he's right at home here. Whitesell doesn't hold back in (literally and figuratively) pulling the robe off Big Momma but he clearly knows that nothing is to interrupt Lawrence's antics not even the thin story line. Aside from that he knows quite well how to execute thinly veiled rip-offs of the aforementioned Mrs. Doubtfire as well as countless other hidden-motive comedies (i.e. Kindergarten Cop Houseguest et al). Because while the main guise is the Big Momma fat suit Whitesell parades the film about as a feel-good/family flick.