Friday, November 22, 2013

Journey Into DVD: Kids movies aren't just for kids anymore!

Some of the best movies I've seen lately come from the Children/Family aisle. Having two kids can actually expose you to some fine cinema. Of course, 2 of these 3 are ones that, due to various circumstances, I saw without my kids. But they liked them, anyway!

Monsters University: Another fine effort from Pixar. I prefer the originals to the sequels from the company because you just can't beat the joy of discovery that accompanies a Pixar movie that introduces you to a brand-new universe. Well, this one was pretty good. And of course the "Toy Story" sequels are great. Hmm, maybe I need to rethink my policy on Pixar sequels.

Yeah, I prefer Monsters, Inc., but so what? The world can always use more good family-friendly movies, and more to the point, so can my DVD shelf. As a parent, you really appreciate quality because your kids are gonna want to watch it again and again and again. I've seen at least parts of this film 4 times already, and it actually improves with each viewing. The voice work is excellent, with returning Billy Crystal and John Goodman matching their outstanding job as the main characters. Joel--yes, Joel--Murray stands out as an older college student who joins the boys in a fraternity. The character design is great, too, especially the new character of Johnny J. Worthington III (Nathan Fillion), who simply just..looks like the smug blueblood leader of the rival frat type he is supposed to be. The story is solid and finds a clever way to get our characters to where they are at the beginning of this saga (Oh, yeah, this is technically a PREquel, but for my purposes, it seemed more right to refer to it as a sequel). And it's funny.

If I hadn't seen the first one and loved it so much, I might rate this one even higher. The difference to me is that "Monsters Inc." brought me to a whole new world and a whole new way of looking at elements of the existing world, whereas the sequel takes that world and puts a school comedy spin on it. Doesn't matter, though. I look forward to seeing this dozens more times and eventually starting to dread it.

Wreck-It Ralph: Now, this movie takes a "new" world--the inner universe of video games--and makes it fresh and exciting. It's also clever and also brings plenty of heart to the proceedings. The big standout, though, is the voice work. John C. Reilly is perfect as the title character, a video game villain who breaks stuff but wants to be something more. His voice-over at the beginning of the film is one of the funniest things I've seen in a movie in years. It's subtle, but it's hilarious, and though the dialogue is brilliant and establishes the character, it's Reilly's performance that makes it. I also want to praise Sarah Silverman and Alan Tudyk for voice acting that is as vivid and amusing as the cool visuals. This movie is a real delight and has to be up there with the best animated movies of recent memory.

The Muppets: OK, I finally got around to seeing the Jason Segel reboot of the franchise, and, hey, what took me so long? This one is great! I mean, it's entertaining, funny, warm, and I am kind of upset it wasn't really huge instead of "just" a hit.

Retooling the Muppets for a new generation could have gone terribly wrong, but Segel doesn't strain for edginess. Instead, he makes a few subtle references to changing times, but he stays true to the characters and doesn't pander to try to make teenagers and hipsters want to see it. Maybe that's why it wan't really huge.

One of the smartest things Segel does is he includes a human love story (with co-star Amy Adams, who as always is the most adorable thing ever) but gives it just enough attention to make it relevant while never upstaging or interfering with the Muppets. He creates a new character, Walter, who isn't in himself all that remarkable yet blends in well because of that normal quality. Debuting a new Muppet could have been another pitfall, but instead it works. The best thing I can say about "The Muppets" is that it feels like The Muppets and still feels fresh.

If nothing else, this one is worth it for Chris Cooper's spirited turn as the movie's big villain. He's so good you want more of him, but again I think Segel got the balance right and didn't overexpose him. My favorite scene in the movie involves Cooper doing something I hadn't seen him do before, and, yeah, the movie's a few years old, but I am not going to spoil it. After all, it was a surprise to me!

These are 3 amazing movies, all good for the whole family. I may have to give "Turbo" and "Planes" a shot on DVD.

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