For summer blockbusters, thematic twins hitting theaters at the same time has been a given since Dante’s Peak and Volcano both erupted in the summer of 1997. Then, as if to cement this phenomenon, 1998 followed suit with two movies about the world getting hit with a space rock in the form of Deep Impact and Armageddon. Last year there was a pair of Snow Whites, and by Friday will have had two White House takeovers. Playing in theaters right now are Monsters University and Francis Ha, two films that couldn’t seem more different but in fact share an extremely rare strand of DNA.
One is an animated legacy born to be a blockbuster and the other is an indie darling predestined to be seen more On Demand than in theaters. Though they come from completely different pedigrees, they share something deep in their core theme. Both stories are about compromising lifelong dreams for the sake of a more stable career. This summer children and young adults alike will be relating to characters that choose jobs that are in field that they love but in more administrative capacities.
Monsters University is a prequel to Monsters, Inc. and tells the story of how Sullivan (the big blue one) came to be the top kid scarer on the scare floor, a tale linked entirely to the reveal of how Mike (the small green one) came to be his excellent assistant. This relationship becomes tragic when it’s revealed in the first scene that Mike’s dream has always been to become a scarer, not the monster helping the scarer. The audience soon realizes that this is going to be a story of aspiration losing to reality and a character’s acceptance of his lot in life. However, since this is a geared to be an uplifting movie, the storytellers find a way to turn this potentially depressing notion into a celebration by having the character find a way to actually be excited about this less romanticized outcome.
Francis Ha tells the story of a girl who wants to be a dancer and choreographer but (spoilers) settles for a desk job at the company. Since this is the only film in the Francis Ha franchise we don’t know where her story is headed until it gets there naturally but when it does it is with a similar air. Francis, a durable dreamer, finds peace in her desk job and continues to follow her passion on the side. Unfortunately for Francis, the audience is left with a feeling that the side is where her career in dancing will stay. She is content and we as an audience are made to feel similarly.
There are other shared connections between the two films such as bearing witness to varying degrees of nepotism and living with wealthy peers who don’t struggle as much as the lead character but it’s this odd final note of happily giving up that’s the real mutual disaster flick happening here. Perhaps even more than most cultural mediums, cinema has the ability to speak on behalf of a generation. For ages 8-32, these films herald the era of quitting while behind and calling it ahead. The summer of 2013 seems to be about playing it safe and convincing the audience that they should be happy with it.