Movie Review: Monsters University (2013)

Wow, I can’t believe it’s nearly been 13 years since Monsters Incorporated was originally released. I find it even crazier that I was in what was presumably the prime demographic for both its original release as well as it’s sequel/prequel, Monsters University. Featuring many of the same cast members (Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi), as well as some newcomers to the franchise like Aubrey Plaza and Nathan Fillion, Monsters University shows us exactly how the “number one scare team” of Mike Wazowski and James Sullivan met at college…

Like many critics, I was a little hesitant about seeing a G-rated look at college, but truth be told, Monsters University actually captures the proper spirit of college, especially from a Freshman’s perspective. It shows over-eager club recruiters, students cramming, extreme caffeine consumption, and yes, even partying. While the parties shown in this Disney/Pixar production may not be of the Animal House or Van Wilder variety, they still serve a purpose, and they still capture the essence of the college experience, and that’s good enough for this reviewer!

What Works:

It surprises me still, but I would have to say this is an unnecessary sequel that actually turned out pretty well. With the exception of the new cast members, character development was drastically improved in this film. There are new sides to both Mike and Sulley, and you actually see legitimate growth for both the characters and their relationship with each other. At first, the two have an antagonistic relationship, a solid contrast to the seeming best-friendship shown in the original. Eventually, the two are basically backed into a corner and forced to rethink each other in order to get what they both want, a chance at the Scaring School. While “reluctant rivals eventually become the best of friends” is certainly a trope any fan of Pixar’s can recognize (looking at you, Toy Story, Wreck-It Ralph, etc…) I thought it was a good way to add some true three-dimensionality to they characters.

How to tell Mike Wazowski is not a real freshman: he doesn’t have his keys on a lanyard around his neck at all times.

Of course, being a Pixar film, great voice-acting and a fantastic short film beforehand can be expected.  And this (The Blue Umbrella) delivers, being the second greatest pre-Disney film short yet in my opinion, second only to Paperman. The voice-acting is superb, featuring some already well-defined actors such as Hellen Mirren and John Goodman, as well as some of my favorite relative newcomers such as Tyler Labine and Audrey Plaza. Doctor Horrible and Firefly fans will also get a treat in the vocal form of Nathan Fillion as Johnny Worthington, the leader of the rival fraternity, RΩR. On a side note, is that not the most stereotypical “bad frat guy” name of all time? Regardless, good performances all around. The film also has a nice balance of humor between obvious kid-targeting jokes and subtle but inoffensive adult jokes. The best examples of this is the character of Art, played by Charlie Day of Pacific Rim.

SPOILERS UNTIL THE WHAT DOESN’T CATEGORY AHEAD! GO THERE IF YOU DON’T WANT THEM!

Probably the gutsiest move the studios made was actually the films message, which while it resonated quite a bit with me, could be considered something detrimental to other people. In the final third of the film, Mike is revealed to be an absolute failure as a scarer, not because of a lack of knowledge or dedication, but because of the fact he’s simply not scary. This is actually something that took me a while to realize, and from what I’ve noticed, is something a lot of people come to realize at my age: Just because you love something, just because you know it inside and out, doesn’t mean you’ll succeed at it. Sometimes people are just born into it, other times they’re just lucky, sometimes you’re just the opposite. But just because you failed at one thing that you love doesn’t mean you should give up. In fact, sometimes that failure can broaden your perspective.

What Doesn’t:

Honestly, pretty much all characters besides Mike and Sulley receive little to no development. This may be a surprise to a lot of people, but I honestly followed the development course of this film for quite some time, and was honestly hoping for some further development of the side characters, especially Steve Buscemi’s  villainous Randall. Unfortunately, all my hopes were dashed, and the little scraps he got were essentially off-screen. The music outside of the opening short was honestly rather forgettable. But hey, at least it wasn’t totally Randy Newman…

Final Score:

Good

While not the best Disney/Pixar film by far, this is still a relatively solid film. Definitely worth a single viewing, though if you have kids, you’ll likely be re-watching this a few times… 7 childlike screams out of 10.

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