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Monster's University

Monster's University

What She said:

She

I was somewhat shocked when I heard about this prequel to the 2001 hit Monsters, Inc.  I mean, it’s over a decade later, and so I imagine a lot of people have already forgotten about the first one.  But it seems like Pixar was scrounging for some new material, and so they decided to revisit the monster world.  This time, however, we get to hang with Mike Wazowski, James Sullivan, and Randall Boggs back during their younger years, college.

The story primarily follows Mike, who had dreamed of becoming a Scarer since he was just a wee one.  Problem is, he’s naturally not that scary looking.  He’s basically an adorable little green ball with one big, beautiful eye.  He doesn’t even have sharp teeth.  Mike becomes obsessed with the notion of becoming a Scarer, and compensates for his meek stature by studying the craft profusely.  What he lacks in size, he makes up for in heart and ambition.  Upon graduation from high school, he’s accepted into the prestigious scaring program at Monsters University.  The coursework is difficult and highly competitive.  It’s there that he meets James Sullivan aka Sulley, an extremely large and furry legacy in the scaring program.  Sulley has quite an intimidating roar, which he uses to “get by,” but academically he’s floundering.  He also develops a distaste for Mike.  Their rivalry evolves until the two are at each other’s throats, and both are kicked out of the program. 

Mike is heartbroken and envisions a way of getting back in, winning the Scare Games.  If Mike can prove that he’s the scariest, then the University will have to take him back.  Mike has to pull together a hodge-podge group of other aspiring Scarers to make up his team, and this includes Sulley.  The two partner and take on the Scare Games in an effort to restore their pride and their place and in the scaring program.  Along the way, an unlikely friendship develops.

Watching this movie in HD on my 55 inch television was breathtaking.  The colors and crispness of this film are beyond impressive.  That was my first and greatest takeaway from Monsters University.  It’s visually superior.  The animators took the time to add reflection off the eyes of characters, and each strand of Sulley’s fur is well defined.  It really is amazing to see.

Monster's University

I also like the basic premise of this film.  It goes without saying that little Mike would probably encounter adversity in his quest for his dream career, but it was nice to see the writers of this movie embrace such a widely applicable theme and let it develop on screen.  This is a perfect concept for a family movie.  So many people face adversity when they reach college, or even high school, and Mike is a hero for plowing through it.  It was also great to see the origins of his friendship with Sulley.  Who would have thought that they initially hated each other?

As much as I liked the story, I found it slightly underdeveloped.  I mean, by comparison to many of the other CGI movies out there nowadays, this was a virtual masterpiece.  But it didn’t quite live up to the Pixar standards of a story that would touch you so deeply that it pulls on your heart strings.  I’ll stop short of saying that Monsters University is forgettable, but it doesn’t leave the footprint that movies like Up and Wall-E do.  However, the plot is interesting and the film is riddled with decent jokes.  The movie strikes the viewer as generally light and airy, and you know there is going to be a happy ending. 

The film brings back the usual cast: Billy Crystal as Mike, John Goodman as Sulley, and Steve Buscemi as Randy.  In addition, you’ll recognize other notable voices like Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Nathan Fillion, and Aubrey Plaza.  It’s not often that I notice any weakness in voice acting, and Monsters University is solid in that arena.  My only complaint about the characters is that I wish they would have done more with Randall.  We see the beginnings of his rivalry with Mike and Sulley, but there are opportunities for this film to go further, and it just does not do that.

Overall, Monsters University is a solid family film.  By far, not the finest by Pixar, but good enough by the standards of today’s animated faire.  I enjoyed it, but was not overjoyed by it.

Thumbs mostly up.

What He said:

He

I don’t know why, but Monster’s Inc. has always flown under the radar, at least for me personally. It’s never the first movie that comes to mind when I think of Pixar movies. I’m not sure why, because I always thought it was a very well-done movie. So when this prequel came out, it really didn’t register on my radar. I was aware of it, but indifferent to it.

When we first met Mike and Sully they were already the top Scarers at Monster’s Inc. For those of you who need a refresher, in the city of Monstropolis a company called Monster’s Inc. supplies the power for the entire city by sending monsters to our world and scaring children. They bottle the screams/fear and use it to power the city.

Monster's University

But before all of that, Mike (Billy Crystal), Sully (John Goodman), and every other monster who wanted to be a Scarer, had to attend Monster’s University to learn the craft. Even more surprising is that the two did not start off as best buddies. Mike – who is a very small, funny looking, but extremely dedicated student – is all about the craft. He memorizes every book from start-to-finish. The problem is, he’s not very scary. Sully comes from a long line of Scarers. He is a natural, but a terrible student. Naturally, this makes them enemies.

After an incident that cost their spot in the Scare Program, Mike and Sully are forced to join forces. They plan on earning back their spot in the program by competing in the annual Scare Games. The Games are a competition between fraternities in an effort to prove who is the scariest group of monsters on campus. Mike and Sully figure if they can win the competition, Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) will be forced to allow them back into the program.

They have a problem though. Mike and Sully are not in a fraternity. They do find one, but it is the least popular fraternity on campus. Oozma Kappa consists of the outcasts and “losers” of campus. They reluctantly join this group of misfits. Mike doesn’t seem to mind too much, because he is actually considered something of an outcast too, but Sully not a fan of it at all. He would much rather be a member of the popular fraternity – Roar Omega Roar – which is led by Johnny J. Worthington III (Nathan Fillion). But they can both agree on the fact they don’t like being on the same team. If the two have any hopes of being re-admitted into the Scare Program they have to work together.

Monster’s University reunites Billy Crystal and John Goodman as Mike and Sully, but shows their relationship in a much different light. They’re best buds in Monster’s Inc., but reluctant allies in this prequel. We also get to see their rival Randall (voiced again by Steve Buscemi), who is also shown in a much different point in his life. I enjoyed not only seeing these three again, but seeing them in a different light. It was a nice contrast compared to the first movie. It showed how they became the characters we know and love from the first movie. The chemistry was still there even if the characters relationships were vastly different.

Monster's University

The movie also has a plethora of new characters. Helen Mirren plays the Dean, Nathan Fillion plays the leader of their competition, and Mike and Sully’s frat is loaded with new characters. Nathan Fillion and Helen Mirren were both good as the protagonists. Helen Mirren was particularly good. Her character was rather creepy looking and her accent fit perfectly. Fillion played the frat jerk with just the right amount of arrogance and confidence. The characters in Oozma Kappa were a nice group of sidekicks. Squishy (Peter Sohn) was perhaps me favorite. He is this short, tubby, and well squishy little guy. He is geeky, unpopular, but totally likeable. He is a loveable nerd if I have ever seen one. Don (Joel Murray) is the oldest and founding member of the frat. He is an older guy who simply got tired of his old job and decided to pursue his dream and go back to school to become a Scarer. He’s the dad of the group. He tries too hard to fit in, tells bad jokes, but you love him anyway. Charlie Day played Art, who is something of a hippie. The character is of course a philosophy major. Like the other two, he’s a bit of a cliché, but also like the other two executed well.

Like I said earlier in my review, I don’t think of the Monsters movies immediately when thinking of Pixar’s best. They’ve done so many and sometimes you simply tend to ignore anything not named Toy Story. But I think that’s going to change from now on. I really enjoy these movies as well. This was a nice addition to Pixar collection.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on December 18, 2013.

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