July 18, 2013

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“Monsters University” is cheerful summer fun

The reputation for high quality that Pixar have movies is well deserved.  Even after Pixar merged with Disney, its films have managed to maintain a robust balance of emotion and humor and a strong combination of style and substance. The company just makes good films. Pixar films exemplify the notion of collaborative effort. There is no standout person within the company—it is interested in promoting the films, not company personalities. More often than not, the famous actors who voice the iconic characters disappear in the roles so completely you might forget you’re listening to Tom Hanks or Billy Crystal. Even Pixar sequels, which in the case of most franchises tend to suffer in quality, at times exceed the original film. “Toy Story 3” was one of the most heartwarming films to come out of Hollywood in recent years.  And so, this summer, Pixar has released “Monsters University,” a prequel to “Monsters, Inc.”  And it’s good, because of course it is, it’s Pixar. The film is visually stunning, surprisingly deep, and sure to please fans of the series.  While “Monsters University” may not have the same emotional resonance of some of the previous Pixar films, it’s still far better than anything else playing at most local theaters right now.

“Monsters University” takes place before the first film, giving the audience more insight in the world of monsters that exists just on the other side of our closet door. This film focuses more on Mike Wazowski, the short, green eyeball with feet voiced by Billy Crystal, showing us the beginnings of his childhood dream to be a “scarer.”  Screams are what power this parallel universe, and monsters harvest them from the bedrooms of children across the world. Of course, monsters believe that children are toxic, so they are as just as scared of the kids as the kids are of them. Monsters have to learn how to properly scare children, however, in order to harvest the most power from each session. The best school to learn how to scare is Monsters University.  Most of the film is a send-up of the typical tropes of the college/teenage coming of age film.  It’s part “Animal House,” part “Revenge of the Nerds,” with a dash of “Carrie” thrown in somewhere in the middle. The monster world mirrors the human world, just slightly more absurd.  Overall, the film is fun and light, much like the first one.  

As for the depth, there is a certain twist towards the end of the film that isn’t exactly unpredictable—unless you think about the target audience.  My four-year-old son was sitting next to me in the theater, cheering along at the appropriate times, emotionally involved and enjoying the experience as a child might. He’s seen enough movies at this point to know how things go, and expects them to go a certain way.  “Monsters University” turned his expectations slightly on its ear. Again, for most movie-goers, nothing that happens in the film is unexpected.  But for a child, the twist might be somewhat shocking. These moments are where Pixar shines—the films are not afraid to challenge even the youngest members of their audience.  Actions have consequences and characters are expected to live with them. It’s a good lesson for kids and sets up a sort of evolutionary process that will eventually lead to better experiences with higher-level movies. Growing up with Pixar can only be a good thing for future film enthusiasts.

“Monsters University” doesn’t reach the level of films like “Up” or “Toy Story 3.” Part of this is because the universe these characters occupy is too otherworldly. Remember, these are monsters that get their power from terrorizing children. But as an expansion on the original film, it is effective and entertaining. There is a lot to see in the film, enough emotion to make it seem special, and it’s clever enough to keep most audiences from being bored. A lot of action-movie blockbusters out right now can’t even manage half of that.  “Monsters University” may the best this summer has to offer.


July 18, 2013

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