Pixar Review 33: Monsters University

mu19I can hardly believe it but this marks the last of my Pixar series! (Well, until Good Dinosaur comes out that is).  Today we will talk about Pixar’s 2013 effort Monsters University.  It is of course a prequel to the beloved Monsters Inc.

Pixar has a philosophy with sequels that in an effort to not repeat the same movie over again they try to not only tell a different story but put it in a completely different genre.  If you think of the Toy Story movies all 3 are different genres (buddy movie, action adventure, prison escape). The same is true for the Cars movies (nostalgia small town story, spy movie).  They followed this tradition with Monsters University creating a college comedy instead of the mixture of themes we get in original film.

mu2But right out of the gate they make an interesting choice.  Instead of focusing on the hero and in many ways lead of Monsters Inc, Sulley, (he is the one with the relationship with Boo after all) they focus on the sidekick Mike. So how do you tell the sidekicks story?  It’s a tricky thing.

They start out with Mike as a little one going on a field trip to Monsters Inc.  He is inspired by the scarers and decides that is going to be his dream job.  He works hard and gets into Monsters University.  He follows the mantra we’ve seen in a thousand other movies- if you work hard at something you will succeed.

mu17But wait! Pixar decides to subvert this narrative and give us something very unique for a kids film.  The head of the school is named Dean Hardscrabble voiced by Helen Mirren.  She tells Mike he is not scary.  She knows no matter how hard he works he will never be scary. In some ways she is the villain of the picture but in others there is no villain.  There are just people being honest with Mike about who he is.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITYThey also show an interesting dynamic between Sulley and Mike.  Sulley is in  many ways the exact opposite of Mike.  Everything is easy for him.  He is naturally scary and doesn’t have to work hard to be successful.  Mike has his head in books while Sulley doesn’t even bring a pencil to class.  This causes animosity between the two at the start of the film.

But then the annual Scare Games are announced and Mike see’s it as his opportunity to prove he can be a great scarer and be allowed into the scare program.  In order to enter though he needs a fraternity and team.  Sulley needs a team so he ends up joining Mike’s fraternity which he assembles from castaways and nerds.

mu7The opponents in the Scare Games is a fraternity called Roar Omega Roar.  Nathan Fillion voices the leader of Roar frat.

mu9We also get to meet some of the other frats and sororities competing in the Scare Games.

mu15And that’s where we get into the goings-on of the Scare Games and the movie starts to lose me a little bit.  The various obstacles and challenges (cheating and sabotages included) aren’t that compelling for me.  And unfortunately it is a large part of the movie.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITYWithout spoiling it certain events happen that show Mike he is just not scary.  His dream was wrong.  That is a bold concept for a children’s movie to address.  But what he does realize is he is a great coach, a great leader.  He motivates everyone on his team to do better including Sulley.  That is his true gift.  In the end he is sad to give up the dream of scaring but he also seems happy to have found his true calling.  I love that message and I think it makes Mike one of the most complex characters in all of Pixar.

mu13Mike and Sulley also realize they can get where they want by working through the company of Monsters Inc- starting in the mail room and eventually hitting the scare floor.  That’s another very subversive message for a kids movie.  You don’t necessarily need to go to college to get where you want to go.  I love that!

mu18Monsters University also has a bright color palate that I find very pleasing.  Animation-wise it is a joy to watch.  All the voice cast is great including Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Nathan Fillion, Charlie Day, Aubrey Plaza, Julia Sweeney, Bonnie Hunt and more.

Overall, Monsters University is a very pleasant Pixar movie and one, like I said, that subverts traditional narrative quite a bit for the kind of story it is telling.  I really enjoyed that aspect of it.  It is creative, beautiful and I loved seeing Mike and Sulley’s back story.

However, it is far from perfect.  The Scare Games go on too long and I didn’t care much about them except for when the winners are declared.  At 104 minutes it is a pretty long film and I think 15 minutes could have been cut without missing much of anything.

mu3Also the side characters aren’t that memorable or interesting.  I didn’t hate them but just find them kind of forgettable.

That said, I do like Monsters University.  It challenges the traditional narrative just enough to keep my interest.  I think if you watch it with your kids they will have a good time.

There is some college partying gong on which some parents may be uncomfortable with and some tense moments to be aware of.  Also I don’t know how interested little kids will be with Mike’s job struggles?  Maybe I don’t know.

Randy Newman returns with a lovely score.  I was really impressed with how it sounded like a fight song from a University.  It had that big band collegiate fight song feel to it.

So Monsters University has it’s flaws but the uniqueness of Mike’s journey really rewards the viewer and makes you think about your dreams and life.  Maybe there is something better for you instead of settling for mediocrity just because it is your dream?  We are all good at different things but sometimes those talents take a little more digging for some than others.  Mike discovers what makes him special and I love seeing that take place.

Overall Grade- B-

What do you think of Monsters University?

Pixar Review 11: Monsters Inc

monsters incOk.  Do I like Monsters Inc? This should give you some idea.

monsterscostume2Yes, I like Monsters Inc!

As the 4th feature film from Pixar and their 3rd original story Monsters Inc is a total delight.  This time we get a new director with Pete Doctor with Lee Unkrich and David Silverman (of Simpsons fame) co-directing.   The story is wildly creative with humor, adventure and something to appeal to the entire family.

monsters inc2Monsters Inc takes us to a ‘parallel city’ of Monstropolis that is full of different monsters of all shapes, sizes and varieties.  In order for the city to run they rely on human screams that are collected when top monsters go into the closets of human children and scare them.  So the monster really is in the closet!

Our lead characters are a Jewish eyeball Monster named Mike Wazowski voiced by Billy Crystal and his best friend James P Sullivan or Sully voiced by John Goodman.  They are a great duo with Mike being the neurotic optimist and Sully being a bit lazy top dog at the plant.

monsters inc5When you think about the characters in the previous films and look at Monsters Inc it is remarkable.  Look at the fur on Sully’s coat.  It’s amazing! All the monsters are that way.  They are all lush and textured.

monsters inc3Randall is the other top scarrer and main competition for Sully and he is a chameleon who’s leathery skin looks so real. He kind of looks like his voice actor Steve Buscemi who is very creepy (much better here than in Home on the Range!).

monsters inc9The plant is ran by an Octopus Monster named Henry J Watermoose voiced by James Coburn.

monsters inc4And Jennifer Tilly is a delight as Celia Mike’s girlfriend with the oddest hair you’ve ever seen.

I’m sure from those character descriptions you can get a little bit of a feeling for how creative Monsters Inc is.  It’s also bright and colorful and Billy Crystal is hilarious as Mike.

monsters inc10

The people in Monstropolis believe a human child is toxic and that even the touch of a clothing will require decontamination for a monster.  They have an entire defense team that sanitizes and cleans anyone who has contact with a child.  Well , the story starts into gear when a little girl gets let into the scare floor and ends up in the possession of Mike and Sully.

monsters inc8The little girl who is named Boo is super cute, so much so that she might annoy some more jaded viewers.  I think she kind of needed to be that cute in order to warm over the hearts of monsters who think she’s a killing machine.  Imagine if she was some bratty little girl?  They would have disposed of her right away.  But Sully becomes attached to her and they end up on an exciting adventure to get Boo back home.

monsters inc15The highlight is an amazing chase sequence in the library of doors they have both chasing Randall and trying to find Boo’s door. It is so exciting and one of Pixar’s best animated scenes. I mean look at this scene!

All the while the tension is cut by humor from Crystal who evidently loves playing the part.  On the audio commentary the directors said they got both Crystal and Goodman in the same recording sessions which almost never happens in animated films and you can tell.  There is a kinship and closeness the two friends. There is also a great little cameo from the Abominable Snowman voiced by Pixar favorite John Ratzenberger.

monsters inc18The only caveat I would say on Monsters Inc is it might be a little scary for children under 5, particularly when the monsters are scaring kids at the beginning. Randall is also a very scary villain and the fact he is hunting down a child may be too much for little ones.

monsters inc7That said, the relationship between Sully and Boo is just lovely and something you don’t see that often between a male character and a child.  Usually such tenderness is reserved for maternal female characters.

monsters inc 19Sully is willing to do anything to help Boo, even risking his and his friends safety because he knows he needs too.  That kind of bond is rare and gives the film a heart elevating it beyond a silly kids film.

Randy Newman’s score is great especially during the door scene and I love the finale song between Mike and Sully.

I went into this rewatch wondering if Monsters Inc would hold up and it is better than I remembered it.  It’s a delight.  Full of humor, amazing animation, adventure and as I just said real heart.  It just shows how great the Pixar movies are that it still will probably rank 9th but we’ll see.  (who cares about stupid rankings anyway!).

Overall Grade- A (only because I think those 8 are just a hair better but its amazing!  I also still stand by a recent debate I had with online friends that Frozen is better than Monsters Inc.  It has characters I related too more, a story less predictable and gorgeous songs. Frozen A+, Monsters Inc A.  That’s how I really feel!).

AMC Animation Madness Round 1

Figured since I posted about the series and shared my brackets I would post the round 1 results of the AMC Animation Movie Madness. I am a little surprised all the anime films got beaten, but I don’t think any of the winners are bad.

Anything surprise you about what won out?  A little surprised on Monsters Inc and Toy Story 3 winning.  Happy Wreck it Ralph didn’t make it on but sad about Spirited Away and Wall-e but Pinocchio is great.

What do you think about the next match ups?

round 2I see it being a Pixar lovefest which as a Pixar fangirl (I even like Cars 2) is fine with me.  I think the winners of the round will be Lion King, Toy Story, Up, Aladdin, Toy Story 3, Monsters Inc (Frozen should win over Monsters Inc but youtube seems particularly virulent in the backlash dept), Beauty and the Beast and Toy Story 2.  As a Disney fan cool to see an all Disney/Pixar Sweet 16 except for Iron Giant.  I am glad to see that one Golden Age Disney made it to Sweet 16 even if Pinocchio wouldn’t have been my choice, it is certainly a great film.

It’s the very definition of a popularity contest but I think it is kind of fun. I wouldn’t take it too seriously.  It’s not saying what is the ‘best’ animated movie.  That would have to be determined by animation experts but it is just what people like the most, which on a certain level is interesting.

Would love for you guys to do your own brackets both what you think will win and what you would pick.  And create your own bracket of 32 at http://www.printabletournamentbrackets.net/preview/32_Team_Single_Elimination_Bracket

I did a bunch of brackets a while back including the best of the worst of Disney which Bolt won.  So it is the movie I would most like to watch again of all the bad Disney movies. Would be really fun if you guys did that bracket too and we could compare our sweet 16, final 4’s, winners.  Give it a try!

worst disney