Friday, 21 June 2013

Monsters University (A Review)

Wowie! It's been a while!

Oh yeah. The character design department must've had fun!
It's been 12 years since the original Monsters, Inc., which was the 4th feature produced by Pixar in 2001. It was about the time when Pixar was really hitting their stride as a studio and right before the insane boom Pixar had with Finding Nemo. And even though the characters were charming and the film did well (pretty much becoming instant classic with both kids and adults) there really wasn't any need for a sequel. Not only did they finish all of the main character's story arcs, but it also solved the world's great energy problems in a fun and satisfying way. So the only logical way to bring back Mike and Sully to the big screen would be through a prequel. And so we take our main characters back to their college days, before they were top employees at Monsters, Inc., and when they were unknown students at Monsters University.

Mike's wisely at the forefront this time around.
For those not in the know, our two main characters are James P. Sullivan (aka Sully) and Mike Wazowski (John Goodman and Billy Crystal) who meet for the first time while attending school to learn how to become scarers. Scarers are monsters who enter children's rooms and scare them because they need those children's screams to power their way of life (wow, it's kinda a weird concept now that I've actually written it all down like that, but whatever. It works.) The tricky part is because this is a prequel, we already know exactly how it's all going to end. That said the film does a commendable job at keeping me guessing on how it's going to get there by having these characters start off in such a different places during Monsters University comparatively to the first movie (personality and relationship wise.) While Sully was definitely the heart and focus of Monsters, Inc., it's clear Monsters University is all about Mikey. Here Mike is an enthusiastic nerd with big dreams of becoming a scarer despite not being all that scary himself, and Sully is a lazy jock-like jerk who forgoes hard work and coasts through his classes mostly relying on his family's reputation and his natural talents.

Oh shit...just look at him! Something bad's gonna happen to this guy...
The two start off hating each other, so the film is all about how they grow to eventually become the inseparable duo we know from Monsters, Inc. It's great fun to see these two interact with each other in a new and interesting way. Not to spoil too much, but their rivalry is not only the cause of the film's major conflict, but it grows to a point where if they don't at least cooperate together, neither of them will get what they want. And once the movie ends and we get to familiar territory, it all felt like everything tied together nicely, and every piece of the puzzle finally landed in the right place. Even Randel, the villain from Monsters, Inc. voiced by Steve Buscemi, got a quick little backstory, and while they could have found a way for him to be more involved in the overarching story of this film, it was still a joy to see how he got to be so villinous.

The brothers of Oozma Kappa!
It's pretty much impossible not to compare this movie to Monsters, Inc., so let me get this out there right now: no, this movie isn't as good as Monsters, Inc., but it is really good in it's own right. Monsters, Inc. had a lot of unique things going for it that this movie just can't have because it is a prequel. Things such as the stakes being much higher in the original and the clever themes and parallels to real world energy problems. That and the "adorable factor" brought on by the human child Boo couldn't possibly be featured in this movie (due to her not even being born yet,) so don't expect any of that, which is a shame because she was one of the most memorable parts of the first movie. But you know what Monsters University is? It's fun. Hands down fun. It's a smaller, personal tale, but it's a fun one that has plenty of clever jokes for both adults and kids, and memorable characters and moments. The college setting allows for the writers to work in tons of references to college focused comedies like Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds. And it checks off all the college movie stereotypes in fun and wonderfully designed new monsters, such as the stuffy, no-nonsense dean (played by Hellen Mirren as some millipede/dragon hybrid) and the preppy, jerky frat-boy (played with wonderful ego from Nathan Fillion.) But the best gems are the new characters featured in Sully and Mike's fraternity "Oozma Kappa," which features an abundance of memorable moments from the charming "losers on campus." My favorite being Art, a newage philosophy major monster played by Charlie Day, who doesn't contribute anything of relevance to the plot, but has some great oneliners and his design is so much fun and different compared to the rest of the cast (he's like a fuzzy, purple slinky with a face! Brilliant!) Close second is Joel Murray's character, Don; a mature student whose optimistic attitude would almost put Ned Flanders to shame. Really the characters are why you come to see this movie; they're crazy fun in both their appearance  their acting, animation and their writing.

So is this Pixar's deepest film? Definitely not. Even with a very poignant 3rd act and a surprisingly dramatic monologue from Billy Crystal's Mike, its themes don't nearly resonate as deeply as something like Wall-E, UpRatatouille, the Toy Story franchise, or even Monsters, Inc. But is it one of Pixar's funniest films? Well... actually, probably. It's up there! Director Dan Scanlon doesn't have many productions under his belt, but he really managed to make this a creatively fun feature with some genuinely hilarious visual humour and even some much needed heart to this story. So if you want a fun time, something to just take your mind off and watch some enjoyable animation, this is definitely a good one to see. And while it's not as great as Pixar in it's heyday  it's definitely a step up from what they've been producing in recent years.

And at the very least, hey! At least it's not another Cars sequel!


- Moo