Monday, July 8, 2013

Reviews: 'Monsters U' and 'Despicable Me 2'

Over the last week or so, my lady friend and I ventured out to our local movie houses to see a pair of kids’ movies.
                First up was “Monsters University,” Pixar’s prequel to its 2001 hit “Monsters, Inc.”
                “Monsters, Inc.” was never really all that high up in Pixar’s catalogue for me. It’s not particularly low either, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of the middle. I’ve seen it once, thought it was fine and don’t plan on seeking it out or avoiding it for that matter.
                And that’s kind of pretty much exactly how I feel about “Monsters University.” It was fine. Occasionally it was very funny, but the story suffered from the prequel curse of predictability.
                It’s essentially “When Mike met Sully.” Spoiler alert … seriously … They don’t start out as best friends. In fact, they’re kind of enemies. Mike is the lovable underdog out to prove himself to the world, Sully is the kid from the famous family. They both wind up in MU’s famed scarer program, start competing with each other and run afoul of the dean and get kicked out said program.
                Of course, there just so happens to be a major scaring contest coming up and Mike bets the dean that if they win, they can rejoin the scarer program. The only catch is they need the help of the dorkiest, least scary frat on campus in order to win.
                Can Mike and Sully turn their lovable bands of doofs into terror machines? You’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.  

                If there’s one lesson I learned from “Monsters University” --- see what I did there? --- it’s that Charlie Day needs to be in everything. The fact that he’s not the most in-demand comedic actor out there right now is one of our nation’s greatest shames.
                Day makes everything better. He plays a lower case “n” shaped monster that’s in Mike and Sully’s frat. Not surprisingly, Day can lay claim to nearly all of the movie’s biggest laughs. Without him, I’m not saying this could have been “Cars 2” territory, but who knows? I won’t say it officially, because I never actually saw “Cars 2,” but I heard stories.
                “Monsters University” doesn’t live up to some of Pixar’s heavyweights, but it’s OK. I think my lady friend liked it more than I did.
It’s funny enough and well-paced enough that, even though it’s predictable, it never crosses over into boring. Also, Billy Crystal and John Goodman are back as the main monsters and they’re pretty awesome too.
                But Charlie Day, ya’ll. Charlie Day.  
                Not long after we saw “Monsters Unviersity,” we checked out the sequel to a movie we both really loved, 2010’s “Despicable Me.”

                So how did the appropriately, if somewhat unimaginatively titled “Despicable Me 2” stack
                I’m happy to report, pretty darn well. Of course, it’s not as good as part one.
The original movie came out of nowhere to be not only a big hit, but a hilariously funny comedy with a giant heart that parents, kids and unattached twenty something weirdos like myself and my woman could enjoy.
Part two continues the story of former world class super villain Gru (now world class dad) and the three little girls he adopted.
As is always the case, just when Gru thought he was out of the game, along comes the Anti-Villain League (a sort of heroic bureaucracy) to pull him back in.
Seems there’s a new super villain out there, threatening to use some sort of serum that turns people into purple monsters to take over the world.
The AVL needs Gru to find out who the villain is and save the world. So it’s like using Hannibal Lecter to catch Buffalo Bill, only with less skin suits made out of women.
“Despicable Me 2” is quite good despite suffering from a curse of its own: Kristen Wiig. Apparently, it’s getting harder and harder to make a comedy without her and so even though her character from part one isn’t in this movie, she gets a brand new role --- as Gru's sidekick --- and it’s an even bigger part.
It’s troubling, but outside of a few slip ups, Wiig is mostly kept on a tight leash and doesn’t have to be the focal point so she’s tolerable.
                Some studio exec must have noticed Gru’s little yellow helpers, known as minions, were wildly popular in part one, even though they were mostly kept to the background. That is not the case in part two. The minions are everywhere.
                The minions’ rise takes valuable screen time away from the story and the three little girls. The older girl gets saddled with a half-developed romance angle, the youngest one gets some sort of slighted, but still enough to tug on the heartstrings, mommy issues. The middle kid gets ignored completely.
                There’s supposed to be some mystery over who the new super villain is, but outside of one slight red herring, there’s only one person it really could be. That makes for a pretty crummy mystery sadly.
                The minions, even though they seem to be on the road to overexposure, are still hysterical.
                Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, is a top notch character and he goes toe-to-toe with the minions, never quite letting the little yellow guys take over his movie. He’s got some great lines and even manages to get some good stuff out of Wiig, who I dislike strongly.  
                Its heart might not beat anywhere near as strong as part one’s, but “Despicable Me 2,” with its increase in minion activity, might be slightly funnier. Maybe. If nothing else, it’s close enough to make part two a more than worthy follow-up.  
                Monsters University: B-
                Despicable Me 2: B+

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