Movie Blog: Friendly Monsters, Family-Friendly Zombies
We’re at least two or three films into the official backlash against Pixar for purportedly losing the script, and the tone of some of the attacks on their house seem to take the perceived downgrade in overall quality strangely personal.
The protectiveness makes sense, as for a good stretch of films, Pixar held the crown for highly traditional, story-oriented, mainstream narrative filmmaking. Wall-E and Up and the Toy Story franchise represented, for many, the absolute apex of what a movie could accomplish artistically and still appeal to an incredibly broad audience.
Cars 2? Not so much. That’s undoubtedly why so many are ready to greet the prospect of another unabashed rehash of previously-packaged goods with all the enthusiasm of Chicken Little announcing, “The sky is falling!”
Monsters University splits the difference between Disney-influenced cuteness overload and Pixar’s still potent attention to character and detail. That still sets it well ahead of the curve.
It’s a decade or two prior to the events of Monsters, Inc., and the squat one-eyed monster Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and polka-dot manbearpig James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) are reaching the mutual endpoint to their wildly divergent paths toward adulthood: college. While Wazowski has spent his entire life in awe of their world’s scream-harvesting Monsters Inc. employees — positioned somewhere on the hero worship continuum between baseball superstars and astronauts — Sully clearly hasn’t had to work for a thing in his life. An instant BMOC, he inherited his formidable frame and impeccable growl from a long family line of heavy-hitters. Wazowski, on the other hand, is pure Rudy (as in the 1993 Sean Astin crowdpleaser). As the freshman class’s respective under- and overachievers, both earn the swift side-eye from the grim Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren, doing that thing she always does that turns grown men’s knees into Koosh balls).
Through contrivance, they’re paired up and aligned with the Oozma Kappa fraternity to compete in the school’s Scare Olympics. For a good long stretch of film, before either of them are forced to learn very important lessons about their outlooks on life, the Olympic events nudge the film into a state of giddy invention. But even when Pixar piles on the emotional roughage the enraptured reactions to Toy Story 3 and Wall-E apparently convinced them is their ace in the hole, the level of craft is so rarified that adults will excuse the indulgence even as kids start to shift in their seats.
Zombie apocalypse summer event movie? Sign me up!
Sure, as a resident of a city whose Zombie Pub Crawl played a significant role in kickstarting the hipster-zombie resurgence of late, I approached the prospect of World War Z only mildly worried about the specter of overexposure.
Silly me. I should’ve been significantly worried about the possibility that it would just be a terrible movie. Color me blindsided.
Brad Pitt plays paterfamilias to the world’s least intriguing family unit who, while stuck in gridlock in downtown Philadelphia, get caught up flashmob-style in an orgy of undead sprinters tearing through the scattering populace, spreading their virulent rabies-like condition in a matter of seconds.
Pitt happens to have connections with the United Nations and manages to get his family airlifted onto a ship. But he’s told his wife and daughters won’t be allowed to stay aboard unless he joins an elite crew of international investigators to track down the source of the outbreak. Well, by “elite crew,” it’s more like “a crew consisting of one doctor who characterizes Mother Nature as the world’s greatest serial killer.” From the first stop throughout the remainder of the film, every stop Pitt makes ends in disaster as the zombies continue to gnash their way through the globe’s populace.
I’ll admit there’s something majestically menacing about those images of thousands of zombies making like oiled-up Marines at the Herndon Monument, but Marc Forster remains possibly the most inept filmmaker in the business, with especially unimpressive chops when it comes to action and chaos.
Then again, it frequently seems as though the filmmakers were ordered to deliberately avoid depicting anything too alarming. Having dropped anywhere from $200 to $400 million on what developed into a troubled shoot (and reshoot), TPTB had every reason to want Forster and company to deliver them a PG-13 zombie movie, given the only R-rated zombie movie in history to have ever earned the sort of coin that could recoup World War Z‘s budget was The Passion of the Christ.
So even though I was, as I said, genuinely pumped to see the steroid-amped grandchildren of George A. Romero’s creation get their Happy Meal moment, the ho-hum World War Z made a relapsed genre purist out of me.