Hello everyone, Fenrir here with a review of PIXAR’s latest film: Monsters University. I will be honest here and say that I walked in with very little expectations–save that I knew first-hand of the artistry that went behind the making of Monsters University, thanks to the PIXAR Masterclass. Monsters Inc. was one of my favorite films as a child, and a first-glance look at some of the early trailers made me wary, especially with my disappointment with Brave last summer I did my best to curb my excitement.
Fortunately, I was wrong about my earlier wariness about the film and can say that Monsters University preformed above and beyond my expectations to deliver a film that actually strikes pretty close to home for the outgoing class of 2013 and the incoming freshman of 2017.
So here’s the basic run-down for Monsters U while being as spoiler-free as possible for both the prequel and the main film, Monsters Inc. The story centers around Michael “Mike” Wizowski, a bright-eyed monster with a very special dream of becoming the best “scarer” and eventually working for Monsters Inc., a “scaring” company that relies on the screams of human children to power up the Monster World. After years of hard-work and hitting the books, Mike is enrolled into the prestigious Monsters University, which he sees as his first step to making his dreams come true. Unfortunately, Mike has trouble shining in the scaring program when pit against James “Sully” Sullivan of the famous Sullivan line of top-scarers, who has a natural talent for being scary as well as a charming personality that other monsters easily gravitate towards.
Mike and Sully instantly clash–with Mike’s hardworking, studious approach trumped by Sully’s natural talents, and Sully’s lackadaisical approach to college life slowly but surely ensures flunking grades for the written exams that Mike excels in. These bitter rivals, however, must learn to work together — for not all is bright, shiny, and as easy as it seems at Monsters University, so it’ll take brain, brawn, and a few lessons in the magic of bonding and lasting brotherhood via friendship and fraternities to help Mike and Sully find their place in the Monster World.
This antagonism and grudging partnership is of course a far cry from the Mike and Sully people familiar with Monsters Inc. will remember — I mean who doesn’t love the the dynamic duo that works together seamlessly to save the day. But, and here’s one of the big things that I do LOVE about this film, is this emphasis on their differences and their individual strengths that make them shine. Because the beauty of Monsters University — beyond its amazing visual affects, character design, and attention to puns and detail–is the fact that it is very much applicable to the undergrads and recent grads of today.
Like okay, we all know that they timed Toy Story 3 to coincide with the generation of kids that grew up on Toy Story as they entered college and were bound to leave their childhood behind with a heartfelt message about “letting go” of the material things, but keeping the spiritual wonder and imagination of one’s childhood. And it is a nice message for a lot of us who wish to grow up too fast. But I felt that there was something powerful about Monsters University’s emphasis on finding out one’s strength, on accepting that failure happens, but that you can pick yourself up from it and start anew.
I’m doing my best to NOT give too much away — but there is a very profound scene in which the Mike and Sully duo accept that there are other ways to get what they want in life, and it might not be as clear-cut as going to this school, doing this or that internship, changing themselves entirely to try to fit in a mold that doesn’t suit them, etc. Instead, they play on their strengths, grudgingly learn to accept that there are things that they just can’t do (or be) and are all the better for it by looking to being who they are.
For us recent graduates and those of us walking into college with the entire world seemingly telling us there is nothing in terms of job and general life-success — I find that the Monsters University message is just what we might need to remind us that: Hey, we can do what he want, we can make our unique talents and those things that we love to do work and be profitable for us in the ned.
And for PIXAR to tell this story with fuzzy blue monsters and giant green eyeballs deserves much kudos.
Of course, no film is without its flaws and while I enjoyed Monsters University quite a lot and am in love with its message… It’s also a tired story. Yes it’s relevant right now to me on the cusp of graduation, but it’s a story that we’ve heard since elementary school: If you put your mind to it, you’ll succeed. Bingo. We’ve heard it before, we’ve seen it all before, in a number of other college coming-of-age themed flicks — another delightful reiteration of a tried-and-true moral that we know about.
I may wax poetic of its genius now, but for the more jaded crowd it’s the same routine, in a way. Still, if you’re a Monsters fan, it’s definitely a film that should be on your summer list, and will definitely outshine the other “kid flicks” that are out there right now.
And, if you’re not too excited about being told–yet again–that you can make your dreams succeed if you work hard at it — check out Monsters University for the stunning artistry of its opening short: The Blue Umbrella. If you doubt PIXAR’s ability to produce stunning art by judging at the cutesy furry monster cast of MU, at least give The Blue Umbrella a whirl — this short film by PIXAR’s technical department features incredibly (But not yet uncanny valley) photorealistic lighting and shading, but still with that unmistakable PIXAR charm for character design and story that makes the short a rather whimsical jaunt through a rainy city.
And those of you who have to use an umbrella in a city will definitely sympathize with the plight of our blue protagonist.
– The Story: As a prequel to Monsters Inc., it succeeds in establishing a convincing and compelling backstory for our favorite duo: Sully and Mike — bonus points for character development and world-building!
– Design: For both The Blue Umbrella and the feature film Monsters Inc, the art team outdid themselves in the visuals for these films. From the various monster designs to the hyper-realistic but still PIXAR details of MU’s opening short — there’s plenty of eye-candy for the viewer to soak in. Especially if you watch Monsters Inc., before hand to do a quick comparison between PIXAR’s current tech.
– Soundtrack: Two words: Randy Newman. He definitely has the “Ivy League” feel down pat with rolling snare drums and the sort of “football marching band” roar that gets you pumped and ready!
– The Moral of the Story: “You can follow your dreams and succeed – yay!” can be tiring. It resonates with me on the cusp of graduating and kind-of-not-knowing-what-to-do with my life right now, but it can also be a bit of an eye-roller, or the sort of message that’s been viewed on Lifetime and every awkward graduation speech. Ever.
– Wiggle factor: So, are you ready for nearly two hours of Monsters? I noticed during my screening that the parents next to me didn’t mind getting up or the occasional flash at a watch or cell-phone for the time; the film seems to either entrance or repel viewers and it is unexpectedly long for a G-rated film, especially if you don’t get soaked up into the story. If you’re not big on Monsters Inc., I wouldn’t recommend paying for a ticket just yet — or maybe enjoy a matinee instead.
So overall, how do I feel about Monsters University? As the predecessor to Monsters Inc., I feel like it did its brother film justice although in the face of the originality of Monsters Inc., it might not be the most “inventive” PIXAR story ever. But after Brave? Definitely a step in the right direction to producing films that have nice style and the all-important heart to make it work.