9 Sep 2013

Monsters University movie review

On his entry into Monsters University, Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) only wants one thing… to be a great Scarer. His dreams and studies come to a grinding halt when he gets into a conflict with MU's "legacy Scarer" James T. Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) and both of them get themselves expelled from the Scaring program. In order to save face and his dreams, Mike and Sully put together a ragtag band of outcasts from the Oozma Kappa fraternity to take part in the annual "Scare Games" in order to get themselves back into MU's Scaring program.

"Monsters University" isn't a completely misguided attempt at revisiting those characters--the chemistry between Crystal and Goodman still undoubtably works--but it's nowhere remotely close to one of those "perfect Pixar movies" - movies like "WALL•E" or "Ratatouille" that were so innovative and original in their storytelling they stood alone. Instead, it's very much part and parcel a prequel done for the sake of enticing those who did love "Monsters, Inc." back into theaters to learn the backstory of those characters. Some parts of that story are easier to accept than others.

It's immediately evident this is meant to be Mike's story from the opening sequence where we see him as a young impressionable monster on a field trip to Monsters, Inc., where his dreams to become a Scarer begin in earnest. Years later, he's one his way to Monsters University to chase his own dreams and that's where he first encounters James T. Sullivan, the hotshot "big monster on campus" who feels he can coast through his scaring studies due to his appearance and family legacy. The tough head of the Scaring program, Dean Hardscrabble--more genius voice casting in the form of Helen Mirren--is not allowing anyone to coast through her program, and the endless competing between the two young monsters ends up being their undoing.

The fact that Mike and Sully aren't friends and don't get along when they first meet may have been the most obvious route the filmmakers could have taken with this story, and because of that, it really only leaves one place for the movie to go in terms of their relationship and how it evolves. It's not the most impressive or clever of plots and in fact, it's the type of obvious and predictable prequel/sequel storytelling we'd expect from much lesser animation houses than Pixar.

The by-the-books nature of the storytelling becomes more obvious when we're introduced to the plot device of the "Scare Games" where Mike, Sully and the motley crew of monsters, who really have no chance of winning, are suddenly seen as serious contenders. In fact, it's the introduction of the Oozma Kappas, the campus outcasts that take Mike and Sully in after they're expelled from the Scaring Program, where the movie finally finds its footing. As much as humor is a subjective thing, if you can't find anything to laugh at in the antics of the lovable group of supporting characters--Charlie Day's enigmatic Art, the two-headed oddball Terri and Terry, the "mature student" or the overly eager Mamas' Boy Squishy Squibbles--then you probably shouldn't even be trying to watch a comedy.

As much as "Monsters University" is another visual treat, special attention has to be drawn to the musical work by Pixar regular Randy Newman who creates a score that's truly special in terms of bringing that much-needed heart to certain moments but also filled with memorable tunes that leaves you tapping your toe as you leave the theater. If one were to pick one MVP outside the voice cast, it would have to be Newman's contribution.


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