Blog | Topic: Movie Review

Monsters University: New Release from Pixar

Monsters-University-Teaser-Poster-2The Pixar movie Monsters University opens today.  Along with the movie’s official website, the makers of the film also created a mock university website that is very creative and fun. It includes all of the elements that you would find at any college or university website (admission, academics, campus life) but with a monster twist, of course. My favorite feature is the “message from the dean” video, complete with the college mission statement and Alma mater. There is also a collection of other Monsters University videos here including a campus tour, fraternity life, and college roommates.

According to the dean, Monsters University is a place where: “I can love to learn and learn what I love.” Now that’s a pretty good vision for a college, actually. In fact, it’s a pretty good summary one of the most important books written about higher education in the last 10 years: James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Smith argues that a good education is one that shapes and directs our affections. Who knew Pixar was a fan of Augustine? Needless to say, the movie looks very promising. I love Pixar films and my kids do too.

I often think about how I developed my first images of what college would be like. I was very fortunate to be born into a family with two college educated parents. From the time I knew what “college” was, I assumed I’d be going. As I watch this movie (hopefully this weekend!), I will be wondering about what young people will think college is like. Monsters University will certainly serve to shape many adolescents’ imaginations (another theme of Dr. Smith) about college life. And many will begin to picture themselves on campus, in a classroom, on a sport’s field, eating in a cafeteria, and sleeping in a dormitory. It’s only a movie, of course, and a cartoon to boot, but it will leave an impression, for better or worse, about what college is like and what it is for. Pass the popcorn!

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Admission: 3-D Movie Review

ZD30_1SHT_billing block_1Background/summary: Tina Fey and Paul Rudd costar in Admission, a comedy/drama about the college admission process and the “surprising detours we encounter on the road to happiness.” The movie follows Princeton University admission counselor Portia Nathan (Fey) as she travels to high schools, reads student applications and navigates the competitive world of elite college acceptance. On the road, Portia reconnects with a former college classmate, John Pressman (Rudd), who is teaching at an alternative school and trying to convince Portia to accept one of his students.

Discover: What is the message/worldview?

  • The college admission process at elite colleges (i.e. Ivy League) is intense and pressure-filled. Students build resumes and transcripts to compete for minimal open spots and look for any advantage or key insight to gain acceptance. In this environment, a student’s GPA determines their value and worth.
  • Parents are just as competitive as the students and they do everything they can to help their son or daughter get into college. Portia makes this observation about parents: “The college application is the final referendum on their parenting skills.”
  • During her reluctant visit to New Quest, an alternative high school in New England, Portia encounters a different understanding of education and motivation for a college degree. Students think that Portia is operating from a “societal approved definition of success” and suggest to her that life is about “leaving the planet better than we found it.”
  • The film portrays tension and unrest in respect to each character’s vision of happiness and the good life. Portia wonders if she is “boring” because she has had the same job for 16 years and has no desire for starting a family. John has traveled the world trying to “save it” but is still depicted as discontent and “running from something.”
  • Even in the midst of a competitive academic and work environment, the most important thing about life is relationships. Ultimately, commitment, attachment and stability are seen a “good” while a life of rootlessness and mobility is called into question.


Discern: How does it stand in light of the biblical message/worldview?

  • God’s people are all given gifts that are meant to be used to give God glory and benefit neighbors. Some people are given intellectual gifts that should be cultivated and nourished. The college admission process can be seen as an opportunity to give God glory or to glorify the self. This movie should challenge viewers to consider why they pursue educational goals.
  • A person’s value and worth should be found in knowing that he or she is a child of God. In his first letter, John writes “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). An academic transcript or a college degree does not determine a person’s worth. God’s unconditional love for His people, along with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, empowers believers to live lives of faithfulness.
  • A biblical vision of learning is to grow in wisdom so that we can be of better service for God. For followers of Jesus a college degree should be about increasing one’s serviceability for God and others. In a subtle way, through the students at the New Quest alternative school, viewers are introduced to a different reason for going to college: “to leave the planet a better place than you found it.” A biblical worldview pushes us even further: we go to college to learn how to serve God and neighbor more.
  • Jesus summarizes the meaning of life and the way to “true happiness” like this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…And Love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:37-40). According to the biblical story, a life that is not built on these words will find happiness fleeting.
  • People who are shaped by the biblical story better understand the “wisdom of stability” that can often be missed in our mobile culture. Speaking through Jeremiah, God’s exiled people living in Babylon are commanded to “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters” (Jeremiah 29:5).
  • One of the implications of being created in the image of a Triune God is that we are made to be in relationship with other people. Without deeper, intimate relationships, it is difficult to experience and understand God’s love and faithfulness. Community is essential to the life of faith.


Decide: What do I do with it?

  • Admission can be used to spark many conversations for students about life after high school. It forces viewers to examine more deeply the reasons behind their desires to go to college or pursue a career.
  • The movie will also challenge parents as they think about their role in helping their son or daughter get into college. Do parents (and students) see a college acceptance for their child as a status symbol or as a way to bring honor and glory to God?
  • What does it mean to be happy? What is the good life and how to we get it? Even though the movie Admission is about the college admission process it also invites viewers to wrestle with these bigger questions. Although the characters take a windy road to reach these conclusions, the movie ultimately portrays commitment, attachment and stability as something worth striving for.


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More CPYU 3-D Reviews.

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Young Adult: Everyone Gets old. Not Everyone Grows Up.

Most of the time I cringe when I hear someone offer this advice: “You have to do what makes you happy.” I’ve seen too many people follow this counsel to its logical conclusion, only to be hurt and lost. Happiness is fleeting. What makes us individually happy is rarely a way to measure a good life. When we offer advice like this, I wonder if we are more concerned that the person needing the advice avoids pain and feels better about him or herself. Are you happy in this relationship? Are you happy in your job? Are you happy in your $50,000 convertible? Is happiness really the issue here?

If we are willing to be sincere, however, taking time to reflect on the meaning of happiness and its connection to a life well lived is often a helpful and healthy exercise. Young Adult is a movie that invites viewers to consider two important, life-shaping questions: What is happiness? What is the essence of a good life? Mavis (Charlize Theron) has been living life based on a script that hasn’t worked. She was the most popular girl in high school, had gone off to college and then moved to the big city to make something of herself. Freedom was Mavis’s dream. Free from the confines of a small town, free from the expectations of her parents, free from the shackles and burden of being married or raising a family. Free to do whatever she wanted. No restrictions. No restraints. Her occupation as a ghost writer for a young adult fiction series gave her the flexibility and presumably enough income to live her dream. But the dream was slowly becoming a nightmare. The story that was supposed to bring liberation began to enslave her.

Mavis learns that her high school sweetheart, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), had gotten married and had recently had a child. Buddy worked for his father’s business, still lived in the town in which he grew up, and now was producing offspring. It was too much for Mavis to take. How could Buddy live such a boring story? How could he lose control of his life in such a tragic way? There was only one thing for Mavis to do. She had to save him. She devised a plan to seduce Buddy away from his wife and child.

“Everyone gets old. Not everyone grows up.” The movie’s subtitle says it all. Critics have described Young Adult as “hilariously awkward,” “darkly funny,” “wryly amusing,” and “a cringefest in the best way possible.” My guess is that screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) was hoping for this kind of response.

Young Adult is a movie worth watching, especially for those charged with helping adolescents grow into healthy adulthood. It forces us to think more deeply about the meaning of a good life, the importance of community, and the cultural narratives that shape our desires and imaginations. There is growing concern that young people are taking too long to “grow up.” Social scientists have named it extended adolescence and emerging adulthood. Churches seem to be perplexed about how to “reach” people in their 20s and 30s. Young Adult is a gift to those who wish to better understand our cultural moment and the hopes and fears of our young neighbors. It isn’t an easy movie to watch, to be sure. It is, after all, a cringe-fest. It probably won’t make you happy. But being uncomfortable isn’t always a bad thing. Oftentimes it moves us toward empathy and action.

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