A monster goes to college. In this “Teen Wolf” sequel, the werewolf -- played by a young Jason Bateman -- gets a full athletic scholarship to Howard University solely because he’s the cousin of the first film’s basketball hero. However, the sport here is boxing, and as expected, this teen wolf is a natural in the ring once he begins to “wolf-out.”
Another game-based college comedy, this Disney movie features a clue-driven race around Los Angeles between teams of student stereotypes, including jocks, nerds, and sorority sisters. Michael J. Fox made his film debut here as the one non-college-aged member of the yellow team, which is the good guy group. Their main rival is the blue team, which is made up of cheaters, including college movie staple Stephen Furst (“Animal House”; “Up the Creek”).
This was the second movie in 2004 about a President’s daughter, after “Chasing Liberty.” That one followed the First Daughter on a European trip, while this centered on the character leaving the White House for her first year at a California college. Katie Holmes stars as the famous student, who hates having the Secret Service watching over her every move. Then she actually falls for one of the agents assigned to her, not knowing that the guy is undercover posing as a classmate.
A college-set romantic comedy with an undercover male student, “The Prince and Me” stars Julia Stiles as a pre-med student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who befriends and later falls for a Danish boy who secretly happens to be a prince. Aside from the reason this royal teen chooses to come to America -- he sees an ad for a college-set “Girls Gone Wild"-type video -- the modern-day fairy tale is a rather innocent, PG-rated update on a 19th century German novel that later became the play “Old Heidelberg” and the operetta/musical “The Student Prince.”
The true tragedy that begins this sports drama may be difficult for some really young kids to understand, but the rest of the movie is relatively wholesome entertainment. Here, Matthew McConaughey plays a newly hired football coach who is chosen to build a winning team in the wake of a plane crash that killed 37 players and much of the Marshall University coaching staff. It’s your average feel-good underdog sports movie and a real departure for director McG.
This college sports drama from Disney also involves a newly hired coach (played by Josh Lucas) and a real-life team of underdogs. But “Glory Road” takes place on the basketball court and deals with a very different kind of obstacle -- racism both within the team and from outside (the film does feature some uses of the n-word). The film portrays the true story of El Paso’s Texas Western College and their (at the time) unheard of number of black players, as well as their groundbreaking appearance at the 1966 NCAA finals.
A broader, slightly more slapstick remake of the Disney classic “The Absent-Minded Professor,” this movie stars Robin Williams as the college science professor who invents a rubbery goo that makes things bounce and fly through the air. Keeping with the usual athletic focus in college movies, here he helps the basketball team succeed by affixing this “flubber” material to their sneakers. However, that isn’t the main plot, which instead deals with criminals who are after the substance for financial gain. Oddly, given its success, this never spawned a remake of the sequel, “Son of Flubber.”
Like “Flubber” and the film it’s based on, this Disney movie takes place at the fictional Medfield College, where Kurt Russell played a student named Dexter Riley over the course of a few films (the others being “Now You See Him, Now You Don’t” and “The Strongest Man in the World”). In this installment, an electric shock turns him into a genius with encyclopedic knowledge, speed reading abilities, and uncanny math skills. He uses the new talent for the academic equivalent of all the sports matches we see in these movies: a collegiate quiz tournament.
Another veteran teen actor for Disney, Tommy Kirk played the young titular genius in “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones” and this sequel, where he goes off to college (Midvale rather than Medfield) with returning co-star Annette Funicello and an intelligent chimpanzee. The main plot involves Jones being tasked with a number of schemes to help the school, including a means for football students to study in their sleep and the invention of a flying machine that will help win a much-needed donation to the institution.
Pixar took a chance on their follow-up to the critically passable, merchandising gold mine "Cars." But instead of finding another adventure for Lighting McQueen, they turned the spotlight on Mater, the (questionably) lovable tow truck voiced by Larry the Cable Guy. Even with flourishes of '60s-era spy films, it was a mistake -- Mater has zero attention span and manic behavior. The movie is like babysitting a child hopped up on sugar cereal for a day.
Pixar's foray into the "Disney Princess" genre started off with a solid setting (the high plains of Scotland!), a solid main character (the rebellious, agile Merida!), and a dynamic relationship dying to be explored with the delicate touch of Pixar (the woes of mother and daughters). But "Brave" never finds footing. It's incredibly small in scope -- a good chunk of the movie takes place in three rooms of Merida's castle -- and splits its story in two. Neither side (even with bears) is that compelling.
"Cars" is a nice movie. It's just nice. Pixar mastermind John Lasseter threw his love for cars up on screen in a flashy, sentimental story of friendship and small-town simplicity and it was... nice. Featuring Paul Newman's final performance and a laid-back turn from Owen Wilson, "Cars" rambles along with its sports movie spirit and does it... nicely. It's nice.
A sequel needs to find a new angle to be truly revelatory, but the second outing with Woody and Buzz feels like a rehash. Luckily they're characters we love. When the cowboy meets the family he never had, it effectively jerks our tears.
"Monster's University" is surprisingly straightforward. Want to know how Sully and Mike met? Want to know how monsters become Scarers? Want to know more about monster Greek life? Pixar's first prequel has you covered. "MU" isn't as inspired as "Monsters Inc.," but it has the razzle dazzle and ingenuity of mind-blowingly detailed animation to hold our attention, putting in some of the craftiest physical comedy of 2013.
Cuddly, wuddly "Finding Nemo" will be getting its own sequel "Finding Dory" in 2015. However, it will be hard to top the initial majesty of Pixar's underwater drama and the adorable trip Father Marlin and Dory take to look for the titular fish.
For the "Toy Story" trilogy-capper, editor-turned-director Lee Unkrich melded a heart-pounding adventure in the vein of "The Great Escape" with the recognizable act of moving on from childhood. Touching, thrilling, and completely true to the past "Toy Story" films, "Toy Story 3" had us in tears as we said goodbye to Woody and Buzz for the last time.
An understanding of friendship has always been a key ingredient of Pixar's work, and "Monster's Inc." is the culmination of that study. In the film, Sully and Mike find themselves at individual career crossroads. Through action -- a wild ride through human and monster worlds -- and the emergence of the little girl, Boo, the two remind themselves that a close friend can help a person (or monster) get through anything.
Pixar's riff on "The Seven Samurai" isn't the critically consistent movie one might expect, but the years work in its favor. Building off the simple story of an ant (Flick) taking down oppressive grasshoppers with a team of non-hero bugs, John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton deliver Pixar's strangest, sharpest humor flick.
Those first five minutes... those first five minutes! "Up"begins with a swell of emotions before lifting off into the clouds with Carl Fredricksen, Russell, and their talking dog Doug for Pixar's most adventurous film. Melancholy and visual splendor is at the heart of "Up," which is the definition of Pixar's independent spirit.
Brad Bird took over "Ratatouille" part way through the film's development, but came in early enough to put his stamp on it. The result is an energetic love letter to Paris, fine dining, and beating the odds. Patton Oswalt isn't an obvious casting choice, but that's the magic of Pixar -- finding the right voice to match a character. Bird's eye for action continues as he takes us on the tour of a kitchen through the scurrying POV of Ratatouille.
Bird had nothing to prove when he made "Mission: Impossible 4" his first live-action feature -- he had already shown up every action movie out there with Pixar's superhero flick, "The Incredibles." An existential drama about growing old disguised as an issue of "Fantastic Four," Bird's film races along to the bounce of its jazzy score and never lets up. It set a standard for today's comic book movies.
Admit it: "You've Got a Friend in Me" is still stuck in your head. Pixar was pushing the envelope when they released "Toy Story" in 1995. The technology forever changed the industry, but it was also a story about people -- even if those people were made of plastic. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen deliver genuine performances behind their CG exteriors, while writer Joss Whedon peppers it with humor that works on every demographic level.
After the success of "Finding Nemo," Andrew Stanton could do whatever he pleased. At least, that's the sense we get from his follow-up, "Wall-E," a subversive animated science fiction film that nods to the silent era and still pleases on an inner- (or actual) child level. It's the antithesis of everything Hollywood wants out of a cartoon -- it drops the dialogue, finds real romance, and teaches an honest, shocking lesson. This is Pixar at the top of their game.