Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University – A Dual Review

This weekend I decided to beat the heat and head to the air-conditioned confines of the local Cineplex. I had already seen just about everything else that was playing, so I decided to take a peek at some of the animated movies that were currently playing. I like animated films, but I generally don’t go to see them in theater as a room full of children isn’t always the most conducive way to watch a film. It’s the one time that I don’t get annoyed at the behavior of my fellow theater dwellers – they are kids, after all and I’m invading their turf – but that doesn’t mean that it’s something that I’m anxious to do. However, it was too hot to do much of anything else and I had enjoyed Despicable Me and Monsters, Inc. when they were released, so I decided to take my chances and take in an animated double feature.

Though the plots of Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University have nothing in common, the films are similar and that they are both sequels to very popular movies and that neither one of them quite live up to the quality of the original film that spawned them. Both are still enjoyable and not a bad way to kill some time at the movies, though I greatly preferred Despicable Me 2 to Monsters University (which is not all that surprising as I enjoyed Despicable Me more than Monsters, Inc.) Both films could have easily appeared to be nothing more than an attempt to cash in on the success of their predecessor, but each film tried to tell an interesting new story rather than simply rehashing old material. In other words, these sequels tried a lot harder than Hangover 2.

Despicable Me 2 is the more traditional sequel as the events in the movie take place after the events of Despicable Me. Gru (Steve Carell) is now the guardian to Margo, Edith and Agnes and has retired from the Super Villain game. Their quiet existence is shattered, however, when Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to assist them in discovering the identity of a new criminal mastermind. Gru is partnered with Lucy (Kristin Wiig) and the two of them have to work together, much to Gru’s chagrin. Someone must have realized that the thing people love most about these films are the minions, as their presence has been heightened in the sequel. That’s fine by me – when it comes to the Despicable films, it really is all about the minions for me. They are so darn cute.  Where do I sign up for one? Although, technically, I guess I already have one though around these parts we refer to them as “interns.”

The Despicable Me franchise may have to rebrand itself as the despicable part of the title doesn’t really refer to Gru. He wasn’t really that terrible in the first film – stealing the moon isn’t exactly the crime of the century – and the second film finds him pretty much transformed into a bona fide good guy. Gru still occasionally is grumpy, but being a dad has mellowed the guy out quite a bit. And while I applaud the higher profile of the minions, the story for the second film is a little on the slight side. There were enough laughs and funny moments that the story was almost beside the point, but the overarching narrative was still the weakest part of the film. By trying to give the minions more screen time, it took some of the focus away from the main story. Carell and company do a fine job with the voices and Wiig is a nice addition to this universe, but by trying to service so many characters and storylines the film feels a little unfocused. I doubt any of the kids in the audience cared – they seemed to be having a blast – but the adults that accompany them may notice the slight dip in storytelling. Despicable Me 2 is still a lot of fun and enjoyable to both grownups and kids alike, but it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the first movie.

I know that I saw Monsters Inc. when it was released, but I really didn’t have much memory of it and didn’t bother to re-watch it before going to see Monsters University. This was not much of an issue, however, since Monsters University was a prequel to the original film and tells the story of how Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) first met back at college. I don’t know that this was an origin story that really had to be told, but I guess that argument could be made for a lot of sequels and prequels out there. Though Mike and Sully are a team in Monsters Inc., they were not the best of friends when they first meet.  They were actually rivals, as book smart Mike resented the work ethic of Sully, who was content to ride on his family name and large stature. A series of events unfolds to force Sully and Mike to work together and cast the pair in a true underdog story. The college setting gives the animators to make several university based jokes about fraternities and sororities and college life in general. An impressive cast (Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Nathan Fillion, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley and Charlie Day) rounds out the supporting cast of characters. Several reviewers have called Monsters UniversityAnimal House for Kids” and that isn’t totally off the mark, though I think it is closer in spirit to Revenge of the Nerds.

The problem with a prequel is that there isn’t much question of the ultimate outcome; since we already know that Mike and Sully are friends and what they do for a living, there isn’t much suspense in the story. This is a problem for all prequels, not just this one, but it does lower the stakes. Monsters University has a clear story to tell and has heart, but that comes somewhat at the expense of jokes. That isn’t to say that the film isn’t funny – it is – but it seemed to have fewer moments of laughter than I remember from other Pixar movies.  While the basic story of a rag-tag band of outcasts trying to prove themselves and overcomes the odds won’t be a new one for adults, they do play with the formula a bit so that the story isn’t completely stale. I would have been more impressed if the film stuck with its original message – sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you work, we all have limitations – but that’s probably a little too cynical for a kids’ movie (though as someone who used to teach college freshman who were the product of the “everyone gets a trophy” method of child rearing, a little reality might not be a bad thing). I did find parts of Monsters University a little on the boring side, but overall it was still a cute little movie that adults shouldn’t mind having to sit through. My biggest gripe is strictly a matter of personal taste – I’m pretty over Billy Crystal as a performer. I used to find him somewhat entertaining, but as he has gotten older I find him more grating that anything else and his comedy a little hackneyed. I’m to the point now where even the sound of his voice is slightly irritating to me, which makes Monsters University a less than ideal movie going experience for me. Thankfully my love for all things John Goodman balanced it out and I found Crystal’s presence in the movie only occasionally distracting. That’s totally my hang up, but I’m sure it colored my overall enjoyment of the film.

Some random thoughts:

  • As a (former) sorority girl, it would be nice if just one movie didn’t portray the Greek system as full of mean girls and douchebags. I know, I know – there are plenty of both in fraternities and sororities, but there are plenty of those kinds of people who aren’t affiliated with Greek life too. We aren’t all jerks.
  • Ha! Boy bands are really having a resurgence this summer. First there was the ending to This is The End and now Despicable Me 2. If only The Lone Ranger had featured a little N’Sync, perhaps it would have been better.
  • Monsters University features plenty of Easter eggs and in-jokes. Entertainment Weekly has the run down.
  • Both films have tags after the credits; Despicable Me 2 has several scenes that unfold over the credits featuring the minions. Monsters University forces you to sit through almost nine minutes of credits before their tag scene appears. It was cute, but I don’t know that it was worth sitting through what could have been a list of every person who has ever seen a Pixar movie. Kids may not be patient enough for the scene and they may not get the joke.
  • The short, The Blue Umbrella, plays before Monsters University. I think this was confusing to some people in the audience, as it isn’t your traditional animated film. Some people may have thought that they were in the wrong place if they were unaware that these shorts often precede Pixar movies. It was cute, but not as good as last year’s Paperman.
  • I don’t know why I find it so funny that the minions have normal names like Dave, Larry and Kevin, but that cracks me up every time.
  • Based on the reaction of the little ones during the trailer, I’d put my money on Disney’s Frozen being a big hit. I have absolutely no idea what was happening during the trailer for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 – that is a weird little film.
  • It has finally happened – I’ve now seen every movie currently showing at one of our local movie theaters. Good thing some new stuff is being released this Friday and that I still have options at the art house theater.

I am obviously not the target audience for either of these movies, but I can assure the adults that will be dragged to these movies that they will not be a chore to sit through. Neither film may have the same spark as the first films, but they are still very entertaining and enjoyable. I thought Despicable Me 2 was funnier, but Monsters University has its charms as well. Either film would be a fine way to spend an afternoon. If you are fans of the original films, you will enjoy the sequel/prequel, despite their shortcomings.

 

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Epic Roundup edition

So it appears I went a little overboard this week with the links; I was freaking out that I was behind schedule on this post and just started plugging away in compiling links. Next thing you know, the document was nine pages long. I guess I just kind of lost track of what I was doing. So while you wade through all the pop culture goodness I’ve cultivated for you over the last two weeks, I’m going to consider taking a nap after a job well done.

  • Chris Brown is facing possible jail time after an alleged hit and run incident. That’s kind of like getting Al Capone on tax evasion.
  • Don Draper’s childhood home is a real place (and for sale), though it was heavily CGIed for Mad Men. Michael Jackson’s Thriller video and scenes from Chinatown were filmed in the same neighborhood.
  • Get off the ledge – Robert Downey, Jr. is confirmed for Avengers 2 and Avengers 3.
  • Breaking Bad is the latest TV show to get its own beer. Anyone in Albuquerque want to send me some?
  • Um….am I the only one that finds it odd that they are using an Eminem song in the trailer for Despicable Me 2?

 

  • Starz has officially announced a new series Outlander, based on the books by Diana Gabaldon. Not sure it is for me, but sounds interesting.
  • No shocker here – Dan Harmon finally watched the 4th season of Community and he wasn’t a fan.
  • Flavor Flav’s last chicken and ribs restaurant has closed. Fun fact – Flavor Flav is inexplicably one of my Twitter followers (Word up, Flavor FLAV!).
  • Stephen Colbert’s mother passed away last week. If you haven’t seen his touching tribute to her, it is a must watch. I bawled through the whole thing.

 

  • The national nightmare is over – Twinkies, Ho Hos and the rest of the Hostess cake family will return to shelves July 15. I’m guessing the people who dropped a ton of cash to stock up are feeling kind of foolish right now.
  • Someone (brave) got an Arrested Development inspired license plate:

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  • The Faceblock App from the new episodes of Arrested Development can now be downloaded.
  • Shark Week is coming in August – and if this promo is an indication, it’s going to be particularly twisted. RIP Snuffy.

 

  • CNN breaks down the accuracy of the recent Lifetime movie on Jodi Arias (which yes, I watched). Good job CNN – no worldwide crises you should be covering.
  • Nick Swisher and his actress wife Joanna Garcia have released the first picture of their baby daughter and she is just precious:

 

Welcome to the world, Emerson Jay!

Welcome to the world, Emerson Jay!

 

  • Finally! One of Taylor Swift’s (alleged) exes has (allegedly) written a song about her. Oh John Mayer – I knew you were the one that was douchey enough to do this and I love you for it.
  • Jon Stewart was on the Egyptian version of The Daily Show. It switches over to English about 2.5 minutes into the interview

 

I’m still reeling from the death of James Gandolfini and am touched with the various ways he has been honored:

  • The New York Yankees took a moment to observe his passing:

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  • Holsten’s Ice Cream, the locale for the final scene of The Sopranos, saved a table in his honor:

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  • Sesame Street posted a clip of his 2002 appearance:

 

  • Gary David Goldberg, creator of Family Ties and Spin City, passed away. Michael J. Fox remembers him.
  • I’m regretting that I didn’t go to the Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival – it happened only a hop, skip and a jump away in North Adams, MA. I’m especially bummed I missed Wilco’s all cover set, but now I can listen to it online in its entirety.

 

  • Happy 50th birthday to Georgios Kyriacos Panagiòtou (George Michael to the uninitiated).  In honor of half a century, here’s one of my favorite songs:

 

  • A new poster has been released for the final season of Breaking Bad (did anyone else internally yell out Fame? Just me? Moving on….)

breaking bad poster

 

  • Men’s Wearhouse has fired their founder (and star of their commercials). I’m guessing they didn’t like the way he looks.
  • The Village Voice has an interview with my favorite member of The Roots, Questlove.
  • A Street Fighter parody – with cats. My Pumpkin would dominate in this.

 

  • Among the new Houseguest on this season of Big BrotherRachel’s sister (if you watched the show, you know what this means).
  • Late Night with Jimmy Fallon was really exceptional last week – great guests and fun bits – but this Super Mario Brother’s rap is really fantastic:

 

  • Speaking of…this photo makes me deliriously happy:

Rob Stringer Honored As UJA-Federation Music Visionary Of 2013

 

  • The first episode of the Stephen King miniseries Under the Dome did very well for CBS. The rich get richer.
  • An infographic of Leonardo DiCaprio movies.

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  • The first trailer for the upcoming Lego movie has been released:

 

  • This screencap pretty much sums up the 90s:

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  • Parks and Recreation will kick off its sixth season with an hour long episode that takes place outside Pawnee.
  • Disney has (thankfully) decided to change the name of the upcoming Muppets sequel from The Muppets…..Again! to Muppets Most Wanted.

 

  • Ridley Scott. Cormac McCarthy. Brad Pitt. Michael Fassbender. Penelope Cruz. Javier Bardem. Cameron Diaz. All associated with one movie – The Counselor

 

  • The actor in this character might look familiar – he was the awful Oliver on The O.C.

 

  • OK – I PROMISE this is the last Kanye-related thing this week. He made a terrible short film to promote his new album Yeezus that features fellow Kardashian baby daddy Scott Disick and Kim BFF Jonathan Cheban. They are not great actors, but this is kind of hilarious since Disick has always given off an American Psycho vibe. Glad to see he owns his sociopathic-ness.

 

  • This isn’t really pop culture related, but it’s far too crazy not to share (and it happened a few towns over from me).

As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts

  • Here’s montage of famous movie actresses, edited to make their heads explode

 

  • Wonder what it would be like if John Lennon auditioned for The Voice? Wonder no longer

 

  • I’m still not tired of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky;” listen to it performed by President Obama:

 

  •  A supercut of all of Troy McClure’s credits on The Simpsons

 

  • Jon Snow gets an 80’s style training montage, as it should be:

 

  • This supercut seems to indicate that David Letterman is kind of obsessed with drums:

 

  • A supercut of zombie headshots

 

  • And finally – Hannibal’s open credits get an Arrested Development make-over:

 

Have a great week!

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Almost Vacation Edition

Just when I thought that winter might finally be behind us, Mother Nature decided that we needed one last storm (I hope!) to make things all snowy and white. I am not a fan. The only thing making this bearable is the knowledge that in less than a week I will be in Florida with some of my favorite people and watching baseball. The idea of sitting in the sunshine and not having to wear a winter coat make me positively giddy. Plus it has been five dark and lonely months since I last saw my beloved Yankees, which feels like a lifetime. I’m ready for our reunion. But never fear, dear readers – you won’t be without the blog while I’m away. I’ve got some posts ready to go up in my absence. I’m just that dedicated.

So while I dream of warm weather while I scrape ice and snow off my car, here’s your biweekly round up of some of the pop culture stories that you might have missed.

  • Today would have been Mister Rogers’ 85th birthday

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  • Christopher Meloni has been cast in a new pilot from Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Cougar Town) based on the book I Suck at Girls.
  • Jimmy Fallon and Selena Gomez performed “Mario Kart Love Song” last night on Late Night:

 

  • I’m not sure that anyone was asking for it, but Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is getting a sequel (my guess is without Jeremy Renner).
  • If you’ve got nothing to do this weekend, MTV will be marathoning old seasons of The Real World. The Real World: Portland will debut on March 27th.
  • Safety Not Guaranteed director has been tapped for Jurassic Park 4. I really enjoyed Safety Not Guaranteed – worth checking out on DVD. A sweet and quirky indie.
  • A Walking Dead/Homeland mash-up:

 

  • This dog does indeed resemble Samuel L. Jackson:

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  • The actor who played Captain Peacock on the British comedy Are You Being Served? has passed away.

 

  • The Funny or Die website is venturing into the world of feature films. Their first product is iSteve, a comedic biopic of Steve Jobs and starring Justin Long (which has got to be better than the not intentionally funny Ashton Kutcher version).
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s production company released a cool short film:

 

  • The blog Thumbs and Ammo has replaced all the guns from TV shows and movies with actors giving a thumbs up. The result is surprisingly positive.

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  • Check out this LEGO paper plane folding machine (it took 600 hours to build):

 

  • I didn’t understand a word of this “March Madness explained with Star Wars” video

 

  • You can watch the first three minutes of the new BBC America show Orphan Black online. The show debuts March 30th.
  • Sigh. I really didn’t need to stumble upon this website of pop culture tribute prints.
  • A Good Times movie is being developed. Not so Dyn-o-mite, though I bet J.J. Walker is available.
  • HBO has released a trailer for the second season of Veep:
  • Vampire Weekend has released two new songs: “Step” and “Diane Young.” Their new album Modern Vampires of the City is out May 7th.
  • Listen to a mix of Justin Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie” and Daft Punk:

 

  • What every home needs – A Breaking Bad terrarium. I’m not kidding – I would put this in my living room.
  • Filming for the third season of the BBC’s Sherlock has begun.  A fourth season is happening as well. More Cumberbatch for everyone!
  • A Shining/Dumb and Dumber mashup:

 

  • Beyoncé has posted a new song on her Tumblr:

 

  • A new red-band trailer for Kick-Ass 2 has been released:

 

  • This is a good dad – a game developer hacked Donkey Kong so his daughter could play the game as a female character that rescues Mario
  • Whoa – Pete Campbell from Mad Men and Rory Gilmore are getting married (well – the actors that play them are, anyway)
  • Watch Usher and the Afghan Whigs perform together at SXSW:

 

  • I can sympathize with Hitler’s reaction in the video I linked to above – I love Google Reader and am very bummed that it will be retired soon. It’s what I use to keep track of all the links that I share with you in these roundups.
  • A new trailer for Despicable Me 2 has been released:

 

  • Cedric the Entertainer is the new host of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
  • And finally – The Princess Bride meets Game of Thrones: