Monsters University Review
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IN THIS PREQUEL-SEQUEL
A blast from the past from my old movie blog (my first movie review ever!) For the past several years Pixar has been going on the notion of sticking to what they know and to expand upon their previous movies rather than creating brand new ones. The result could be a mixed bag from the universal acclaim of Toy Story 3 to the mediocre of Cars 2. With the success of Brave (Pixar’s last summer movie), many were expecting to see something similar; something more original. Pixar changes it up a little bit and gives us prequel (not a sequel) to the 4th animated film Monsters Inc. with the movie Monsters University. Does the film graduates with honors or fails the final exam?
Set as a prequel to Monsters Inc., Monsters University tells the story of Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) as freshmen at Monster University. Both have the ambition to graduate from the school to become “Scarers”, but, as it turns out, both characters start out as rivals to each other. To put it simply, Mike is the brain and Sully is the brawn, both lack what the other one has. The angst of the duo’s rivalry is put aside when the two of them join an unpopular university fraternity called “Oozma Kappa” (OK for short) and must compete in the Monster University’s “Scare Games”. Mike and Sully’s relationship slowly changes to an unlike friendship as they must band together their outcast fraternity brothers of “OK” to win the games or be expelled from the university by the scrupulous Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren).
THE GOOD / THE BAD
What can I say… I’m a big fan of Pixar movies. Ever since Toy Story first came out, I’ve been in love with these animated tales (maybe a little bit more than Disney and DreamWorks carton features). Maybe it’s because the overall quality of the movie (storytelling, animation, poignant themes and messages, etc.). Whatever the case, Pixar has and is and will presumably continue to be a dominating powerhouse in animated movies for many years to come. And yet, just like all great studios, Pixar still has had its duds (I’m talking about Cars 2). Monsters Inc. was a great Pixar movie (to me at least) and I was excited to hear that the studio was heading back to the “Monster World” with Monsters University. After seeing the movie in theaters, I felt that Monsters University, while not as strong as original film, is still a great follow-up / origin story with plenty of college-style references and cartoon fun.
After watching Monsters University, I went back and watched Monsters Inc. and the first thing that should be said is that the visuals have improved greatly between the two films. Inc. still has some great animation (no doubt about it). However, University enriches the Monsters world in a visual aesthetic more so than its predecessor. Images are fluent, character designs are more detailed, and several elaborate sequences are presented more complex in University than in Inc. The whole college campus (its various buildings and locales) seems to alive and breathing rather than just a backdrop of computer generated cartoon world.
Speaking of college, University has plenty of college references and gags throughout. University also boasts plenty of both familiar and recognizable voices in both major and minor roles. It was interesting to see how they used the college setting (the MU’s campus layout, the Quad, classes, majors, fraternities, traditions like touching a statue before entering building, etc.) and also the classic archetypes of college personas (Goths, Jocks, Hippies and others). It sounds clichéd, but it works well for what the movie is trying to aim for and never gets cheesy or dull. It’s actually one of the best parts why I like Monsters University.
Unfortunately, University doesn’t rise above its original predecessor. As it stands, the movie feels (in the grand scheme of things) a tad bit unnecessary to the whole Monster franchise. Being a prequel to the original movie, you (the viewer) already know that both Mike and Sully are going to be friends by the film’s end. Thus, there character dynamics of being rivals seems a bit deflated and slightly predictable. In addition, University also has problem in its storytelling. The movie paints an interesting premise, pitting the aspiring dreamer (Mike), who has his whole future planned out and works hard to achieve it against the easy-going individual (Scully), who relies on being natural boring into something (his family’s reputation). It’s an intelligent and sentimental story arc, but it doesn’t completely pan out in the movie as it could’ve been. Lastly, various points in the movie are superfluous in nature as they act as prequel set-up to Monster Inc. (i.e. the introduction of Monster Inc. at the beginning of the movie, the appearance of Randall Boggs and the cameo-like appearance of several others from the first film).
The other problem I found was the absence of Boo (the little human girl from Monsters Inc.) Yes, I know she wasn’t even born at this time, but her relationship to Mike and Sully (especially Sully) was the heart of the first movie. With her not there, Sully’s character seemed a little undeveloped and while they tried shed some light into Sully’s past, it just wasn’t enough. I believe it’s this reason why many would’ve rather seeing a sequel to Monsters Inc., continuing Mike and Sully’s story with Boo, rather than a prequel with her not in it.
The voice talents of the film’s various characters must also be recognized. After 12 years from stepping away from their characters, Billy Crystal and John Goodman return as duo protagonists of Mike and Sully and their chemistry undoubtedly works now as it did then. Both seem to be right at home with their respective characters (just younger versions of them) and their expressive voices help bring these two to life once again.
University also boasts plenty of familiar and recognizable voices in both major and minor roles in the movie. The members of the scrappy “underdog” fraternity Oozma Kappa are all very likeable and great additions to the movie. Each one brings their own comedy angst and gags with each one playing the classic college archetypes, including the two-headed drama major Teri and Terry (played by Sean Hayes and Dave Foley), Joel Murray as the “older / mature student” Don, Charlie Day as the spiritual / hippie-esque Art, and Peter Sohn as the young and naïve Squishy. Meanwhile, British actors Helen Mirren and Alfred Molina lend their voices to important key members of the M.U. Staff as the cold-hearted Dean Hardscrabble and Professor Knight. Rounding out the cast are Aubrey Plaza, John Kransinki, Nathan Fillion, and several others as supporting character (again filling in the role of monsters that are riffing on college student archetypes. Additionally, Steve Buscemi returns to reprise his role as Randall Boggs.
Lastly, which I felt was a minor one, was the screen time for some its new characters. I understand the time constraints for a movie, especially a kid’s movie, but I felt some of the characters had more to offer and could’ve had more time on-screen. Art in particular was favorite new character.
Whether you love or hate it, the Pixar train of creating sequels, prequels, and spinoffs to their movies doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon. So where does Monsters University stand? In Pixar’s film library, it stands somewhere in the middle. It was, by no means, a disappointment, but it didn’t have that original and clever story that several Pixar movies are known for. However, in the sequels category of Pixar movies, it stands behind the two Toy Story sequels, which many say are the “best” Pixar sequel movies. Though it wasn’t the exact story that many fans of Monsters Inc. would like to see, Monsters University is a enjoyable, fun kids movie filled with classic clichéd college references, touching moments, impressive visuals, memorable characters, and comic relief for all ages.
4.1 out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: June 21st, 2013
Reviewed On: June 22nd, 2013
Monsters University is rated G