Thursday, June 27, 2013

My Thoughts on Monsters University

Hi, gang. Well, I just returned from seeing Monsters University with a pal. And I've gotta tell you: it was great! Better than Monsters, Inc? Well, no. Though I do think it'd be important to preface my thoughts on MU with my thoughts on MI.
Now, this movie couldn't even try to top the original.  Monsters, Inc. may very well be my favorite Pixar film. Of course I love other Pixar films: Ratatouille, Wall-E, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, and, of course, the Toy Story trilogy; trying to choose a favorite Pixar movie is nearly impossible for me. But Monsters, Inc. just edges out on top for having several factors adding to its stance as my favorite Pixar movie. First, the story is creative. I wouldn't go as far as to say it's original: The old Chuck Jones cartoons with Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog and Little Monsters did the same thing, and movies like Bolt or Wreck-It Ralph would do it again afterwards. Namely, the idea that monsters, video game characters, action heroes, or natural enemies are only so on the clock, as being a hero, monster, enemies, or video game character is just part of their job. But Monsters, Inc. explores it creatively and heartwarmingly. Looking for heart in Little Monsters is like looking for a nuclear device in a bag of Cracker Jacks, the Jones cartoons were more focused on comedy than heart, and while it does play a role in Bolt and Ralph, the focus tends to shift more toward other story elements. Inc stays true to the premise and also uses it as a way to further the plot and character development. The characters are great, the animation fantastic, and I've seen it more than any other Pixar film since I was a kid. So, yeah, although a sequel could get me pumped, it didn't have a prayer of topping the original.

But does that make MU bad? Not in the least. The premise is interesting: we finally get to find out how Mike and Sulley met, how they became lifetime scaring partners, and how this all built up to them receiving jobs at Monsters, Inc, as well as other tidbits like how they met Randall or how Sulley managed to first beat the All-Time Scare Record. The film shows that the duo were not fast friends; both possessed spectacular egos and were fierce rivals. Mike was of the "study hard, scare later" mindset, Sulley the opposite. However, both egos were deflated after being bumped out of the elite Scaring Program and being relegated to Scare Canister Construction. The duo still saw a chance to prove their worth by enlisting their fraternity, Oozma Kappa (OK) in the Scare Games. But they still had to both join forces and turn their different strengths (brains for Mike, brawn for Sulley) into one while simultaneously turning their motley crew of misfits into top-level scarers.
This movie works well in showing Mike and Sulley's gradual transition into friends. Also interestingly, it (briefly) shows the transformation of Mike and Randall from studying roommates into bitter rivals once Randall pledges into the cool frat Roar Omega Roar (ROR), taking the place of the booted Sulley, while Mike sticks to his guns with the underdogs. The underdogs in Oozma Kappa aren't that intriguing as individual characters, but they do represent that all important group of Awesome Nerds you find in so many of these movies, as all their strengths are used to help win the games (SPOILER ALERT: sorta).

Other new faces include villains like the folks at Roar Omega Roar and Dean Hardscrabble, voiced by Helen Mirren, who has been compared to Maleficent as a villain who projects an icy sort of hatred toward those she intimidates. However, all the new characters share the same flaw: they aren't that memorable, primarily because they're all in groups, so you have to concentrate on all of them at once, which is not an easy feat in a colorful cast of characters like these. The Oozmas are heroic nerds; the Omegas are jerks. We get this, plus a few standout nerds and jerks (held-back Don Martin, Gaston-like Johnny Worthington) to supply us with any details.
Yet none of the flaws I listed can staunch my liking of this movie. We don't need to focus on those guys, we want to learn more about Mike and Sulley! And we do, and as their friendship blossoms we get quite a few great scenes in which both confide that they need the other to be as good as they are in each field they specialize in. This movies is just the pick-me-up Pixar needs after the lousiness of Cars 2 and the less-than-memorability of Brave. Check it out when you can: Monsters University earns an A- in my book.

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