Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Monsters University

By Jon Gallagher

Monsters University (Pixar/Disney, 2013) – Director: Dan Scanlon. Voices: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Alfred Molina, Helen Mirren, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Charlie Day, Julia Sweeney, Nathan Fillion, John Ratzenberger, & Noah Johnston. Color & 3-D, 104 minutes.

Has it really been 12 years since we first met Mike Wazowski and James P Sullivan, the lovable monsters from the Pixar movie Monsters Inc.? I loved that movie and so did both of my kids (even though they were 17 and 12 at the time). It was just one of Pixar’s modern masterpieces with perfect voicing done by Crystal and Goodman.

Since I enjoyed the original so much, I was really looking forward to its “prequel,” the story of how Mike and Sulley first met which came out just a couple weeks ago. Sadly, I was a little disappointed with the new movie.

The story is just okay. Mike and Sulley are freshmen at Monsters University, both trying to become “scarers,” the monsters who visit human children each night and elicit screams from them, which, in turn, powers Monster City. Sulley comes from a long line of scarers and his family name is legendary. He’s eight feet tall, covered in purple polka-dotted blue hair, and is naturally scary looking. Mike, on the other hand, is a cute little orb that isn’t much more than an eyeball. No one takes him seriously. 

What we end up with is a couple of stereotypical characters: Sulley, who is naturally gifted, but too lazy to study his craft, and Mike, who has no God-given talent but is determined to work hard to get to his goal. The pair finds themselves at odds with each other in the “Scarer Program” while at school. They clash, end up breaking the Dean’s prized canister (which contains her record-breaking scream), and get booted out of the program as a result.

Mike won’t give up. He learns of “The Scare Games,” a school-wide competition between fraternities (and sororities) and sets out to win the competition.  He joins with a group that can only be described as the Nerd Fraternity (Oozma Kappas) and tries to enter with this ragtag bunch. He learns that they need one more, and Sulley, who has been kicked out of his “cool” fraternity, the Roar Omega Roars, joins with them. The six teams compete in a daily game with the last place team being eliminated.

Mike makes a deal with Dean Hardscrabble that if his team wins, she must reinstate him (and Sulley – plus the rest of the team) into the Scarers Program. She agrees, but tells them if they fail, they must leave school.

Of course Mike’s team finds themselves pitted against the Cool Fraternity in the final contest which has Mike competing against Roar Omega Roar’s leader as it comes down to just two monsters left with the score tied. 

SPOILER ALERT: Mike wins the competition by scaring the simulated sleeping child with a record-producing scare, only to find out later that Sulley had rigged the computer apparatus to make sure Mike won. Sulley admits he cheated and he and Mike are kicked out of school for good. Instead of finishing college, they go to work at Monsters Inc., start in the mailroom, and work their way up the corporate ladder to the point where the first movie begins.

As an adult, I wasn’t as impressed as I was with the first movie. Pixar has the inherent problem of raising their own bar with every movie they produce. The next one is always better than the last (although I really didn’t care for Wall-E). This one didn’t raise the bar any. That’s why I was disappointed.

Crystal and Goodman are once again excellent in their voicing. Dean Hardscrabble (Mirren) is a tremendous addition to this movie. She’s scary, yet not overly so. She’s stern, but somewhat fair. I really liked the character.

The nerds in the fraternity are okay, but none of them are meant to standout. My favorite among them was an “older” monster named Don who is voiced by Murray. That’s not saying a lot; he was just my favorite among them. Fillion does a decent job in his role as the head of the Cool Guy fraternity. You may know him as Castle from ABC’s series of the same name.

The first movie had several “laugh-out-loud” moments, but I found myself not laughing during this prequel, although I did chuckle quite a few times, and found myself smiling more often than not. Kids are going to LOVE this movie (my eight-year-old went with her mom the night before I saw it and couldn’t stop talking about it).

The director has changed, and that may account for the difference in quality. Scanlon handled the megaphone and clackboard with this one, while Pete Docter, along with David Silverman and Lee Unkirch, did the first movie.

Still, even with its drawbacks, I’m giving this one a solid B+ because it did give me an hour and 44 minutes of good entertainment, and although stereotypical in parts, the ending set it apart from the usual fare or what we might have suspected would happen. It’s one that I would buy for my collection and probably watch more than once.

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