Almost 13 years ago, I, for the first time, stepped into a movie theater and saw the film, Monsters Inc. I scarcely remember the experience itself, but having seen the movie so many times since, the film has stayed with me. Personally, I think Monsters Inc. is the definition of a perfect film. It's one of the funniest and most original films I've ever seen, has one of the best movie endings (or quite possibly the best) I've ever witnessed, and I'll admit, I've never seen the film once without shedding a tear at some point or another.
Sadly, after being nominated for the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Film, it lost to Dreamworks' Shrek, a decision that I think everyone is trying their best to forget. Depending on who you talk to, Monsters Inc. is considered one of Pixar's best films, or one of Pixar's more "eh" productions. Being sandwiched inbetween Toy Story 2 and Finding Nemo might have something to do with the latter reaction.
At any rate, I can't deny the impact Monsters Inc. has had on me (or even Pixar in general), so my expectations walking into Monsters University were understandably high. The verdict? It's funny. It's very funny. And I had a great time watching it. But is it as good as the original? Of course not; not even close. It's got moments of brilliance, and it's got moments of subtle poignancy. It may not be able to stack up with many of the other Pixar films, but it certainly possesses that Pixar magic that's kept me coming back for years.
For the benefit of those of you that have not yet seen the original (which you should certainly see as soon as possible), I'll explain the setting. In the world of monsters, everything is powered by human screams. Monsters enter the human world, scare sleeping children, and use their screams to power the monster world. Mike Wazowski, a green one-eyed monster, has dreamed of being a scarer all his life. The reality of this dream begins to form when Mike is accepted into Monsters University; the best scaring college around. Once there, Mike meets Sulley, the son of a much-respected scarer, who is considered the cool guy around campus. Put simply, the two don't get along very well. However, through a series of circumstances, Sulley and Mike are forced to work together and join a fraternity of losers in hopes of winning the annual "Scare Games" and proving to Dean Hardscrabble that they are capable of being scarers.
Monsters University is a riot. In the first 5 minutes Mike gets to college, the gags are coming at the audience in rapid succession. After that first 5 minutes, the film attempts to compose itself and begin telling the story, but with so much potential for humorous stereotypes and visuals gags, Monsters University just can't help itself. Have no fear, the story remains focused, but the numerous sight gags and hilarious dialogue definitely seems to be the priority here, which is not necessarily a bad thing at all.
The one odd thing I did notice about the humor, though, was that so little of it came from Mike. In the original, Sulley was the main focus, whilst Mike got away with the funniest dialogue. With Mike becoming more of the main character, one would expect the humor to be even more focused on Mike. And yet, I recall laughing considerably less at Mike as opposed to the rest of the cast. And this has nothing to do with Mike having any humorous lines that fall flat, it has more to do with Mike having few humorous lines, at least in comparison to the original.
This is not a major issue when one considers how funny the film is already. But Mike's hilarious antics and interactions with the other characters was one of many great things about Monsters Inc. With that missing, one feels just a wee bit let down. I do feel, however, that it's important to note that this isn't something I thought of until after the movie was over. The gags come often enough that I didn't have time to think of why I wasn't laughing at Mike as much as the other characters, which once again, perhaps limits the importance of this oversight.
Is the film as touching as other Pixar films? Of course not. But let it be known that it does have a few meaningful moments. I doubt that Monsters University will water many eyes -even I, who has, admittedly, teared up during at least 10 of the 14 Pixar films to date, never so much as sniffled- but there is a heart among the laughs.
The film runs at a perfect length of 104 minutes. It's not so long that one will be checking their watch, nor is it so short that the fun seems to end so soon.
Pixar takes full advantage of the film's "prequel" status by packing in as much foreshadowing and cameos as they could fit. Some hints at the events of the original are obvious. Some are a little more subtle. I suspect that many references to the original still remain unseen by myself. As if I needed another reason to see the film again. Especially noteworthy in this area of the film is Randall Boggs, the antagonist of the original, whose role in this film has been kept quite a secret in the trailers. The events of this film sets up Randall's motives in the next film beautifully. Also, watch for 3 character cameos in the last 10 minutes. They provide some of the biggest laughs in the film.
The voice cast is excellent, though maybe just a hair weaker than in most Pixar films. Billy Crystal, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi all reprise their roles as Mike, Sulley, and Randall respectively. Helen Mirren is menacing as Dean Hardscrabble, and the Oozma Kappa fraternity cast (Joel Murray, Peter Sohn, Charlie Day, David Foley, and Sean Hayes) are hilarious. Pixar regular Bonnie Hunt gets a small role as a kindergarten teacher. And while John Ratzenberger's cameo is hilarious, I'd love to see him in a bigger role again (his last three roles in a Pixar film have a combined total of four lines).
The animation, is gorgeous, though it's not quite as photo-realistic was what we witnessed in last year's Brave. It's still crammed with detail and bright colors, though, making it a visual treat.
Randy Newman composes his seventh score for a Pixar film. The score is good fun, and a particularly fun jazz track (which appears twice in the film, as well as in many of the trailers) is a toe-tapping standout. Just about every theme from the original film returns, though for some strange reason, the main theme of original ("If I Didn't Have You") is completely omitted. In fact, other than the Monsters University Anthem (which makes one appearance, features no music, and lasts about 20 seconds), Randy Newman does not a pen a new song for this film, which is immensely disappointing.
Flaws aside, I loved this film. While many would beg to differ, Pixar has not made a bad film in my eyes (excluding a couple short films), and this is no exception. Hilarious, touching, and visually impressive, Monsters University is more than worth a trip to the theater. Sure Monsters University isn't as excellent as Monsters Inc. (it's not as funny, and not as touching by a long shot), but it's not really trying to be. Monsters University's goal is to be a very funny film, at which it succeeds with flying colors.
Note: As is typical of a Pixar film, Monsters University is a preceded by a short film, this one is entitled, The Blue Umbrella. In addition to containing some of the most stunning animation I've ever seen, it's also charming and clever, so make sure you arrive at the theater early.
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