Summer 2013: The Family Features

We are now half way through the Summer Movie Extravaganza series and though we have been through several would-be blockbusters and yesterday, through the biggest comedies of the summer, it is now time to get around to some good ole fashioned family entertainment. I tried to find five films to place on this list that might prove entertaining and thought provoking to both children and their parents alike, but that is a tough thing to do when the majority of what is coming out for younger audiences these days is strictly animation. What happened to the times when their were live action sports movies for kids? As much as I grew up on Disney flicks I also couldn't go through days without watching The Sandlot, Little Giants, Angels in the Outfield or The Big Green. I wish there were something closer to this that I might recommend, but the only live action movie that found its way onto this list is a fantasy sequel whose first film didn't exactly break any barriers and the only reason it made its way onto this list is because it is essentially the only live action film this summer with a PG rating or less. There is no Diary of a Wimpy Kid scheduled for this year (or any more in the foreseeable future) and the only other live action flick that made me feel like a kid again within the past few years (Real Steel) should be a one off, but something like it would be appreciated by both kids and I assume their parents who no doubt enjoy certain animated films, but would love to catch a break every now and then. Though Pixar is delivering a prequel to one of my favorite films of theirs and the minions will be returning as well, so it's not all bad news, but you should definitely prepare to be pixelated before we jump into this list.

The Family Features

Clockwise from top: Despicable Me 2, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Turbo, epic, Monsters University
While it seems a solid gig for an actor to book an animated film doing voice work as the majority of these are going to be successful, what I've always appreciated about Pixar is the fact they don't usually rely on big names to sell their movies but simply the creative story and innovating storytelling techniques. While I hope much of this remains true for the prequel Monsters University, it is hard to ignore that John Goodman and Billy Crystal are the guys behind our two main characters, Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan aka Sulley. Monsters Inc. has always been one of my favorite Pixar films and though I would have liked to have seen a sequel to The Incredibles before anything to do with these guys I was happy to hear of the approach in that it wasn't going to be a direct sequel or the guys going back to college, but instead we get a glimpse of Mike and Sulley in their college days and how they became the "scarers" and best friends they were upon first meeting them twelve years ago. Pixar has had a tough run of it lately and despite the fact that I feel they'll be fine in the long run, I can't help but also feel it is just as much their fault as it is the critics who gave last years Brave too harsh a reception. I rather enjoyed the film set in Scotland and featuring a fiery red head as its protagonist. No, the story didn't go where we all though it might or expected it to, but I found that refreshing and didn't mind where it did go which is where the complaints from many critics came. Their decision to do a Cars sequel in 2011 though didn't help and was probably the last property they should have made a sequel for (I don't care how much they make off merchandising or if it's John Lassiter's baby) but their annual offering this year will hopefully redeem the studio and begin a fresh phase for the studio that sees them remaining the premier animation studio.

The other big animated film of the summer that expands on the story of a previous hit will be Despicable Me 2. In 2010 I think everyone was pleasantly surprised by the quality and success of the first film which came from a rather small animation studio, Illumination Entertainment who has since produced The Lorax and will give the minions a movie of their own next year. I found interest in the original film due to the high level of comedy names spread out across the film. With Steve Carell heading it up as super villain Gru and Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Kristen Wiig, Jemaine Clement, Mindy Kailing, Danny McBride, and Will Arnett lending supporting characters a voice I go against what I said earlier about big names taking parts in animated films, but the intent of the makers here is what I admire. They took a group of rather raunchy comedians suited to the PG-13 and R-rated universe and placed their talents in the hands of material for children that might come to appreciate their comedy. I went to the film in theaters with no shame in showing I had a desire to see the film based on the amount of comedians that decided this was a good idea and besides the catch phrases and little yellow merchandising tools that pop up throughout I really liked the film and was laughing consistently throughout. The trailers for the sequel have proved equally as fun and entertaining while the animation itself looks to have improved. There is no question this too will be a huge box office success as it opens July fourth weekend against The Lone Ranger, a film that will have a different demographic for the most part though families who might have ventured to the latest Depp/Bruckheimer production in hopes of a Pirates of the Caribbean type film might decide to go with this picture instead. Either way, I'm sure they'll both do well, but I wouldn't be surprised if the minions give Tonto a run for his money.

While the previous two films have built-in audiences and will no doubt be successful the other two major animated films of the summer have more at stake. Ryan Reynolds is coming off of a rather nice result after lending his voice to The Croods for Dreamworks and apparently formed such a good relationship with them he went into the next room and began recording his voice for another of their films. While The Croods was an enjoyable distraction that admittedly looked great Turbo doesn't necessarily seem as appealing. It is essentially the a movie about racing (like Cars) but with a snail in the lead rather than an actual car. Now, we all know the joke is supposed to be the irony in the fact that a snail is a slow animal and couldn't possibly be associated with a sport all about speed, but if that is all the movie hinges on it could fall flat. It also doesn't help that this is the last animated film of the summer to be released and audiences could have had their fill by the time this comes around in mid-July, not to mention Reynolds will be opening against himself here in R.I.P.D. On the other side of the coin, epic is the opening animated film of the summer. coming out memorial day against Fast & Furious 6 and The Hangover Part III it has free reign over the young audience and their parents, but it also comes from the studio with arguably the worst track record. Blue Sky Studios has the Ice Age films and Rio, but as their flagship series continues to get worse and worse and I wasn't particularly thrilled with Rio I'm not overly excited for this film either. The story looks like a mix between Fern Gully and The Spiderwick Chronicles while also serving as a prime example of an animated film with big names for the sake of having big names that don't necessary lend anything in terms of character, but more for recognition. I'm not on the bandwagon for this one and will remain rather pessimistic unless the reviews are overwhelmingly positive.

Coming to the end of the family features we come to that one live action film I mentioned in the introduction. I wasn't going to place Smurfs 2 on here as I went so far as to give the first film a fair shot, but it was as bad and generic as I expected without being fun at all. And so, what we will include here is Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters which many people might not have been dying to see, but I realize there are a good amount of young adult readers who really enjoy the Rick Riordan series these films are based on. They certainly won't mind seeing another of his adventures brought to the big screen and though this time around Chris Columbus has dropped from the directing chair and Thor Freudenthal (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Hotel for Dogs) has taken over it is clear that Freudenthal has a knack for making live action flicks for kids who want a little something more from their entertainment than rendered digitally rendered characters and famous people voices. Though I never made it around to watching the first film I was really impressed with Logan Lerman who plays the titular character here in last years The Perks of Being a Wallflower and gave me reason enough to take a second look at this trailer when it premiered. The film also features Stanley Tucci, Brandon T. Jackson, and Nathan Fillion playing dress up and looking like they're having a good time with it. I don't know that I'll necessarily rush out to see this sequel when it premieres in early August, but I certainly wouldn't mind going to a Sunday matinee to gauge what families think of the film and if there is reason enough for studios to pay more attention to them and their live action needs. That would be the main motivation for me to root for this film because if it does good business producers and studios might acknowledge this small, but unique audience a little more and with the kind of material I feel my generation received. Either that or they will just see it as a sign to adapt more YA novels which probably won't work out for them at all and they then won't even touch the demographic for several years. Go Percy!

Check back on Monday for The Indies That Can...  

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