Monsters University

Monsters University photo starrating-4stars.jpg3 of the last 4 Pixar movies have been sequels. On the surface that sounds like a depressing trend. But delve deeper and we find that one of those was Toy Story 3, a stunning work of art that stands tall amongst the very best of that studio. The original effort on the other hand, Brave, was actually pretty mediocre. Maybe sequels aren’t so bad, or if you want to be truly technical in this case, a prequel. That positive progression is supported by Pixar’s latest offering.

Monster’s University is an engaging entry in the Pixar cannon. Naturally there’s an unavoidable “haven’t we seen this all before?” feeling. By definition an air of familiarity will creep in any sequel. But the dueling fraternities in college also have more than a passing resemblance to the basic outline of Revenge of the Nerds. It’s the preppies (Roar Omega Roar) vs. the underdogs (Oozma Kappa). We also have Greeks made up of Goth chicks, jocks, & pink ladies that are competing as well. All teams are vying to be the ultimate winner in the annual “Scare Games.” While the picture may not qualify as a classic, it’s a captivating story I thoroughly enjoyed. Screenwriters Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, & Dan Scanlon have fashioned a well written tale full of heart and emotion around characters we know and love.

Mike and Sulley are back and it’s like they never left. They’re just as warm and charming as ever. They join the same fraternity and become teammates. Except their reasons are completely out of necessity and not because they are friends. You see they don’t really get along. That was unexpected. There are other little developments in the story that aren’t predictable either. The script keeps you guessing. It even dares to consider that certain truths cannot be denied or changed. Hard work will only take you so far. To give an example of my own, short people are going to have a disadvantage in the NBA no matter how vigorously they train. The screenplay acknowledges differences can be strengths, but does it a way that doesn’t feel preachy.

Monster’s University is a vivid delight. The animation beautifully exploits lavish color and texture possibilities in animating the myriad of creatures contained within. We get some new creations that are welcome additions to the ensemble. The actors put in extraordinary voice performances here. The most noteworthy includes Helen Mirren as Dean Hardscrabble, the headmistress. She’s flawless in conveying a strict authoritarian that should not be crossed. Charlie Day as Art, a goofy purple Oozma Kappa member that looks like the letter U upside down, is rather memorable as well. There are many more. The entire cast gives soul to a script that doesn’t fall victim to clichés the way other non-Pixar movies do. There’s some subtle life lessons that are more nuanced than many live action films. You kind of assume a happy ending, but it’s not really the one you’d expect.

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25 Responses to “Monsters University”

  1. What I enjoyed a lot is the strain between Mike and Sulley’s relationship. Even at their closest here, they NEVER feel as close as they did in “Monsters, Inc.” I appreciated that nuance because it remains true to the universe’s continuity.

  2. Lol, I like the NBA reference, poor Mike 😦

    Great review, I’m right there with you. Not quite the pixar gold standard but still well above average for usual animated standards

  3. Good review Mark. It’s a sweet movie that will get the kids happy, but for everybody else that knew and loved these characters back in the day (11 years ago), it’s going to feel like a bit of a half-assed attempt.

    • I knew and loved these characters in the day and I thought it was much more than just a casual effort.

      This is a perfect time to quote the Simpsons:

      “Dad, I liked your half-assed under-parenting a heck of a lot more than your half-assed over- parenting.” – Bart Simpson

      “But, I’m using my whole ass.” – Homer Simpson

      Likewise, Monsters University was a meticulously crafted sequel that easily lives up to the original.

  4. Nice review Mark. I’m really looking forward to this. The first is one of my favourite Disney films, so I’m glad this hasn’t sullied (ha! I’m using that joke on everyone’s posts) the good Monsters Inc name.

    • Oh that was a bad pun! lol

      You know I never thought of this as a Disney film. I realize they own Pixar but I think of those two animation studios as distinct entities with very different points of view.

  5. We’re in almost complete agreement here. I loved this movie, and I’d grade it exactly the same. I did think its one problem was that it never really established one whole plot, just pieces of one, and it dragged a bit near the end when it was leading into the original Monsters, Inc. But there’s no doubt it “keeps you guessing,” as you said. I loved the “I can’t go back to jail!” and “I’ll be here listening to my tunes” bits. 🙂

    • The more I reflect on this, the more quotes I remember. “I came back to school to learn the computers” was another. There were some really funny lines. Look forward to reading your review.

      • Thanks!

        I’m so glad Pixar is up and running again, or so I hope. Finding Dory, just by the title, doesn’t sound like it’d be that great, but I trust Pixar has an ace up their sleeve.

  6. Yeah, you’re right, the end definitely wasn’t what you’d expect. Kudos to them for doing that… the third act here is surprisingly complex and the characters path to victory is absolutely NOT a direct one. Nice review Mark, I really liked this one too.

  7. I loved this one! Even in the shadow of the original, it’s great. I think that’s something special. Nice review, Mark.

    Is it just me, or would you like to see Pixar try to make a horror movie? Maybe their own kind-of Monster House…

    • I’d love to see a Pixar horror film.

      You know as much as I enjoy Monster’s Inc, I wouldn’t include it in the very best of Pixar (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles). Monsters University didn’t have the biggest shoes to fill. Just be enjoyable fun…which it was.

  8. Pixar is back after the disappointing “Brave.” Yay….. I’m happy to say that this prequel was great! I was excited to see how Monsters Inc. all started. There were so many surprises in this movie. Sully and Mike were rivals? What? Loved it. The brains vs. the brawn. All the side characters had funny stories, as well. Lots of funny quotes. Kids and Adults will have a great time watching this. 4 stars

  9. I’m a bit sheepish about admitting that I still haven’t seen Monsters Inc., especially since it came out so long ago. Normally I’m slow to see animated films though. I don’t know why I don’t watch most Pixar movies sooner, because I’m almost never disappointed by them. I thought Toy Story 3 was brilliant and I agree that Brave was incredibly mediocre. Your review makes this movie like a fun one that I would enjoy. I plan to see it at some point, however I feel like I should catch Monsters Inc. first.

    • Since Monsters University is a prequel, it’s not required to watch Monsters Inc first. You should see it soon though. It’s really entertaining.

  10. Another great review. 🙂 I loved this (and Despicable Me 2). They’re both at the top of my list so far for favorite 2013 films and I’m not ashamed to admit it. 😉

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