Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Disney Double Feature!

I recently attended a special screening on the Disney Cruise Line's ship the Disney Wonder last week of two of the newest films from Disney: Monsters University and The Lone Ranger and decided to feature a double review of this Summer's biggest Disney releases!
Monsters University is a prequel to 2001's extremely successful  and popular Disney/Pixar film Monsters, Inc. Conveniently, Disney had recently re-released Monsters, Inc. on 3D earlier this year to prepare audiences for the prequel. Even though most Disney audiences and park patrons have gotten used to the idea that the lovable monsters had given up scaring in favor of laughter with the end of the movie and the popular (yet contradictory) Disney World attraction Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor®. With the prequel both Disney/Pixar and the monsters are essentially going "back to school" and returning to their scare roots. Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) has dreamed of being a "scarer" and attending MU since he was very young. Having studied hard all his life to get where he is, he soon finds out that the university's scare program is not as easy to get into as he thought. Along with the usual pressures of a college freshman such as difficult classes, deans, professors and competing fraternities, the biggest obstacle is fellow student James P. 'Jimmy' Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman), who not only is a legacy at the university, but also has natural scaring talent which unfortunately Mike does not. Although he works hard to be accepted by his fellow monsters and the faculty, he realizes he just isn't "scary". So to prove himself, he joins up with the lamest fraternity on campus (Oozma Kappa) to compete in the annual Scare Games! Although the usual prequel stigma goes with MU, if we hadn't already enjoyed Monsters, Inc. the characters would not have as much pull. Although the whole "scaring" obsession permeates the plot, an element that audiences have already gotten over, it's a surprise that Disney didn't just continue the story with "Monsters, Inc. 2" like they've done with their other franchises Toy Story and Cars. While several recurring characters make appearances in MU like former nemesis and one-time roommate Randall (Steve Buscemi), sadly the one character which was the most beloved in the original: 'Boo', the little human girl who befriended Sully, is absent. However, MU introduces some new characters voiced by talented actors such as Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), Art (Charlie Day), and Johnny Worthington (Nathan Fillion) just to name a few. MU resonates more with an older audience with many college age young adults who no doubt enjoyed Monsters, Inc. 12 years ago when they were kids and also has a bit of a nostalgic Animal House (but kid friendly!) feel to it as well. Overall MU is a fun, entertaining movie, with some very sincere moments that only Disney and Pixar could pull off. This may be the start of a disappointing Summer for Disney however as it is currently losing in the box office to Despicable Me 2. Seems like kids are gravitating more to those annoying, yellow minions than to cuddly, not-so-scary monsters!

The Lone Ranger is basically Pirates of the Caribbean meets the Western! Produced and directed by Gore Verbinski, it stars Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer. Although it is not surprising that Depp gets first billing as Tonto, when Hammer plays the title character. It just goes to show how much of a box office draw Depp is. Based on the fictional character created for radio in the 1930's then on film and TV during the 1940's and 50's, the character has remained a American-Western icon for 80 years. This is the first time the character has appeared in a full-length major motion picture. The story is told in flashback from the point of view of Tonto (Johnny Depp) now an ultra-aged Indian in a display at a 1930's Wild West Show imparted to a young boy who idolizes the masked avenger. Flashback to 1869, Armie Hammer plays John Reid, a lawyer who returns home to Colby, Texas and his brother Dan (James Badge Dale) and his family, wife Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) and son Danny (Bryant Prince). As soon as John arrives he is dragged into a posse to track down the escaped fugitive, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Betrayed and massacred by Cavendish's gang, John is the only survivor, who is found by the eccentric Indian Tonto (Johnny Depp) who believes John is a "spirit-walker". They soon join forces to track down Cavendish and to stop a greedy industrialist's involvement in a conspiracy to control a silver mine and the so-far unfinished transcontinental railroad.
While full of intense action and western-style adventure, this very modern take on the legendary masked-hero is far from the original. An unlikely, accidental hero, Hammer's Lone Ranger is more-often bumbling at times than he is heroic and Depp, as his certifiably-insane companion, almost single-handedly steals the show! A fan of Depp since his early Tim Burton days (i.e. Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood), unfortunately he has yet to release himself of his typecast part as Capt. Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Even so far as to play his character in Lone Ranger  almost like Jack Sparrow in war-paint! This isn't his first Western, having played the reluctant outlaw William Blake in Dead Man (1993). His antics and remarkable luck are so over-the-top that Armie Hammer, who has had some minor success in more serious films like The Social Network and J. Edgar, is borderline boring! The movie should have just been called "Tonto & The Lone Ranger"! Also the character deviates from the basic strict moral code that Lone Ranger has followed for years and comes off as more of a poor imitation. Just because you put on the mask and shoot silver bullets doesn't make you "The Lone Ranger", you might as well ride a wooden stick-horse. The movie even goes so far as to mock the Lone Ranger's beloved catchphrase "Hi-ho Silver, away!" but it does manage to include the classic theme song "The William Tell Overture" in the climax. As for a Western, action-adventure movie, and a Disney at that, The Lone Ranger suffers from the same over-the-top action and violence common in action movies today. For an action movie, it is exciting and entertaining but as far as being true to the beloved, classic character, it fails. So far, it has received mostly negative critical reception and performed poorly at the box office. Depending on it's outcome we may not see a "Lone Ranger 2" but we are definitely getting Pirates 5 and 6 so don't worry, Johnny Depp will continue to be his usual crazy and (not-so) unpredictable self until he is as old as Tonto.