By Steven Rea
The Philadelphia Inquirer
One night last week in a tiny Thai-Laotian eatery in Belfast, Maine, a Penobscot Bay town with a thriving boatyard, a lobster pound, and a family-owned movie theater dating to 1912, the talk was all “Jurassic World” and “Inside Out.” Both were playing at the Colonial up on High Street, and every table in the Laan-Xang Cafe (all four of them, with a hard rain wiping out its deck business) was buzzing about genetically engineered dinosaurs and Pixar-engineered emotions. Then, the waitress asked whether anyone had seen Melissa McCarthy’s “Spy,” and a trio working on soup and noodles started parsing “Love & Mercy” and Paul Dano’s performance as the young Beach Boy Brian Wilson.
Who says the movies are dead?
Driven by the megaton business of “Jurassic World” (already the fifth-top-grosser of all time, with weeks of theatrical life left to thunder past “The Dark Knight” and “The Avengers,” if not “Titanic” and “Avatar,” too) and the none-too-shabby box office of Pixar’s mind trip, “Inside Out,” the summer of 2015 is shaping up to be a record-breaker.
“It has the potential of being the biggest ever, without a doubt,” says Todd Cunningham, who crunches numbers for the Wrap, the Hollywood news site.
“Jurassic World” — a reboot of the Steven Spielberg-spawned franchise that began with 1993’s earthquaking “Jurassic Park” — and “Inside Out,” from Pete Docter, the animation whiz behind “Up” and “Monsters, Inc.,” are wildly different types of films. But both have found their audiences — in the millions.
Directed by the virtually unknown Colin Trevorrow, “Jurassic World” reworks the original formula, throwing a new cast (headed by “Guardians of the Galaxy’s” Chris Pratt and Jessica Chastain impersonator Bryce Dallas Howard) into the stampeding path of a DNA-spiked Indominus rex. Industry analysts expected the Universal release to do well, but nobody saw the behemoth it has morphed into.
The teen and college kids who gorged on “Jurassic Park” in the summer of ‘93 are responsible adults now (they’re adults, anyway), ready for a whiff of nostalgia. And a new wave of adolescents eager to see rampaging raptors up close and personal joined the old-timers in the multiplex.
“You have one generation of moviegoers for whom ‘Jurassic Park’ was one of their formative popcorn-movie summer experiences,” notes Brent Lang, senior film and media reporter for Variety, “and they’ve come of age now and they’re taking their kids to ‘Jurassic World.’ It’s become an odd family-fare draw — odd in the sense that you don’t really associate dinosaurs eating people as a family film.”
“Inside Out” is another odd kind of family film, too. It follows a tween thrown into despair by her parents’ decision to move to a new, strange city (San Francisco), and most of the movie literally takes place in her head, where a quintet of emotions — Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear — vie for control. Full of the visual dazzle and inventive comedy of the best Pixar pics, “Inside Out” nonetheless gets very dark (at one point, heroine Riley makes for the bus terminal in a menacing section of town, buying a one-way ticket back to her old home). And who’d’ve thunk that a computer-animated ‘toon that tosses around terms like critical thinking and nonobjective fragmentation would pack ‘em in?
For “Jurassic World,” it’s familiarity, ferocious reptiles, and thrills. With “Inside Out,” it’s the exhilaration of seeing a wild and anything-but-formulaic concept brought to the screen in bold, daring strokes.
There’s something else about the films landing in theaters this summer (a summer that officially kicked off way back in early May with the $191 million opening weekend of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”). Three of the top seven titles (four if you include “Inside Out”) are very much women’s stories. “Pitch Perfect 2” ($181.2 million), directed by Elizabeth Banks, follows the further adventures of an all-girl a cappella group. “Mad Max: Fury Road” ($147.3 million) is really about Charlize Theron’s furious Furiosa and the multigenerational tribe of avenging femmes she leads. And “Spy” ($89 million) is a vehicle for comedienne McCarthy, with key roles for Allison Janney (her boss), Rose Byrne (McCarthy’s nemesis), and Miranda Hart (McCarthy’s CIA colleague). The industry’s coveted fanboy demographic still matters, but the fangirls are having an impact, too.
Industry analysts expect the “Despicable Me” spin-off “Minions” and “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” (July 31) to continue fueling the summer’s fiery blockbuster biz, with the offbeat Marvel superhero title “Ant-Man” and the Amy Schumer/Judd Apatow collaboration “Trainwreck” (both July 17) tracking promisingly.
Into the fall, a new Bond movie (“Spectre”), the last of The Hunger Games (“Mockingjay — Part 2”), and a little something called “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” loom.
“This is going to be the best year in the history of the American box office,” the Wrap’s Cunningham predicts. “Everybody says the medium is dead, blah blah blah, kids don’t like it, and so on. Well, they do if there are good movies. That’s what it boils down to. . . .
“The demise of the American movie industry is greatly exaggerated, as they say.”