Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Monsters University (2013) - A Funny Look at What Happens When Dreams Don't Come True

"Monsters University" is a Monster Film That Should Appeal to Everyone

Monsters University 2013 film poster
"Monsters University" (2013).
Having introduced the characters of Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. "Sulley" Sullivan (John Goodman) in the 2001 animated comedy "Monsters Inc.," Pixar had to go to extreme lengths in order to make this sequel, "Monsters University" (2013), directed by Dan Scanlon, produced by Kori Rae, and with a screenplay by .

Monsters University 2013 film poster

Due to contractual provisions with Disney, Pixar did not even have the right to make a sequel or prequel to its own film. Rather than have Disney do it, as the contract provided, Pixar wound up merging with Disney and thereby recovering the rights to its own characters. As with any follow-up, some will say that "Monsters Unversity" is predictable and not as ground-breaking as the original film. However, it is very entertaining and should appeal to all fans of "Monsters Inc."

Monsters University 2013 film poster
Mike meets Sulley.
It is about ten years before the events of "Monsters Inc.," and Mike has just realized his long-held dream of matriculating at Monsters University. He majors in scaring, and quickly befriends nerdy Randall "Randy" Boggs (Steve Buscemi). Mike practices his scaring lessons at night, and while doing so meets Sulley, a large blue monster.

Monsters University 2013 film poster

It turns out that they are in the same fraternity, and one night Sulley uses Mike's room to hide a rival school's mascot pig, Archie. Archie steals Mike's hat and runs outside with it, and Mike and Sulley give chase. When Sulley is seen capturing the pig, he is offered admittance to top fraternity Roar Omega Roar. Mike tries to join as well, but he has words with Sulley and they turn into enemies.

Monsters University 2013 film poster
Helen Mirren voices Dean Hardscrabble.
Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) is in charge of the school scaring program. She tells Professor Knight's (Alfred Molina) class that they will have a difficult exam at the end of the semester. Whoever does worst will be forced out of the scaring program. Mike and Sulley compete to become the best scarer, but they go overboard and are both tossed out of the scaring program after breaking one of the Dean's precious mementos. Sulley also loses his spot in the fraternity. The two commiserate and become friends again, with Mike explaining that he just wanted to show the world what he could do.

Monsters University 2013 film poster
Mike really wants to succeed.
Mike finds out that he might be able to rejoin the scaring program if he can get back into a fraternity and enter a competition, but none of them will have him. Finally, Mike finds a bunch of misfits who have formed Oozma Kappa, headed by Don Carlton (Joel Murray). Others in the fraternity are Scott "Squishy" Squibbles (Peter Sohn), Art (Charlie Day), and brothers Terri Perry (Sean Hayes) and Terry Perry (Dave Foley). Now in a fraternity, Mike needs a partner to compete, and Sulley is the only one who will agree to help him. Randy, meanwhile, is upset that Mike has become better friends with Sulley than with him and joins Roar Omega Roar.

Monsters University 2013 film poster
Mike and Randall enjoying a nice day.
Making a deal with Dean Hardscrabble, Mike agrees to leave Monsters University if he fails at the competition, which involves a series of physical challenges that test scaring ability. Mike has to whip the Oozma Kappa members into a truly scary group if he is to have any chance of staying in school.

Monsters University 2013 film poster
The visuals really are striking in 3D.
The competition itself is one of the highlights of the film. In their first race, Mike and Sulley have to try not to step on items that will make their bodies grow. In the second competition, they have to steal an item from the library. The competition is intense and seals the friendship between the two monsters.

Monsters University 2013
Mike has an idea.
The story of "Monsters University" is very simple and basic, but the plot is almost secondary to the interactions between the main characters as they learn about each other and begin their friendship. The most interesting aspect of the story is that it remains in question throughout whether Mike and Sulley will realize their dreams, which provides a good dose of creative tension.

Monsters University 2013 Randy Newman
Randy Newman.
Randy Newman, Pixar's house musician, composed the score, with the soundtrack released by Walt Disney Records on June 18, 2013. "Monsters University" is filmed in 3D computer animation and looks sensational. Director Scanlon, a Pixar storyboard artist, uses his visual talents to great effect throughout the film. The design of the monsters varies enough (mustaches shaped like vampire bats and so forth) so that the film remains visually exciting. There are lots of knowing pokes at real university life that should be familiar to any present or past student, and the layout of the campus looks all too familiar.

Monsters University 2013 disco party
Mike and Sulley at a frat party.
There are a lot of laughs, but the heart of the Monsters saga is the sentimental friendship between Mike and Sulley. Crystal and Goodman have a great rapport, and the supporting cast, particularly Helen Mirren, is exceptional.

Monsters University 2013 party
Going wild at a school party.
"Monsters University" flows smoothly into "Monsters Inc.," so you could enjoy the two films by watching this one first if you wished and then following up the "Monsters Inc." This is one of Pixar's best efforts, equal in quality to the original and a step above several of their other more recent productions. The key to Pixar films always has been that their comedies really are more about relationships than laughs. Some core relationship always provides the central core around which the jokes flow. In "Monsters University," the comedy is peripheral to the drama of Mike and Sulley becoming friends, but that drama provides the tension which makes the jokes funnier.

Monsters University 2013 film poster

Pixar still has its touch for top-notch animation, and they still understand that relationships, not slick animation, are what make their product work. The Mike/Sulley interaction is one of the best in animation, as it calls to mind all of the classic gruff guy - nice guy buddy pairings ranging from Ralph Kramden/Norton to Fred Flintstone/Barney Rubble to Skipper/Gilligan. The casting is perfect, as you couldn't find anyone with a nicer persona than Billy Crystal, while John Goodman has that everyman touch that makes everyone recall that co-worker or kindly Uncle or who plows through all the nonsense to get to what's real.

Monsters University 2013
Concept art for the film.
"Monsters University" was Pixar's second-best opening, grossing $82 million domestically and $154 worldwide in its opening weekend, behind only "Toy Story 3." Several trailers and clips were released before the film came out, some of which include scenes that are not in the film itself. You may view them here.

Monsters University 2013 film poster


1 comment:

  1. Very good Prequel to Monsters Inc. Even those who have not watched Monsters Inc. can go for it.