Friday, January 10, 2014

Movie Reviews: Monsters University

As a child and a teen, I loved Pixar's movies and grew up on their stuff. As an adult, I liked their newer offerings less but still love the earlier films, which are among those that remind me of my childhood. After being disappointed or at least not very impressed with "Cars 2" and "Brave," I was unsure what to expect of "Monsters University" and delayed seeing it until yesterday.


"Monsters University" is a prequel to "Monsters Inc." It starts off when Mike Wazowski is in elementary school and has dreams of becoming a scarer. He works hard and gets accepted into the Scaring school on the campus, where he meets slacker James Sullivan and timid scarer Randall Bogs. Tension between Mike and Sully erupts and causes both of them to be flunked out of their scaring class by the stern Dean Hardscrabble. Still wanting to pursue his dream, Mike reluctantly teams up with Sully and an unpopular fraternity to compete in a series of games, and the group learns about teamwork and friendship.

The story was easy to follow, though it was by no means as clever or memorable as the original film. It was good, but the last part of the film where Mike, desperate to prove that he can be a scarer like Sully, enters the human world and wrecks havoc with Sully until both manage to return thanks to Mike's quick-thinking. The last part, to me, felt like it was an attempt to keep the film going and to maintain some consistency with the first film. I appreciate that the writers did not want to make it that easy for Mike to win the games, but it seemed a bit shoddy to me and could have been handled better. The movie did not seamlessly fit in with the original, but there were some references back to the original that were handled well without making it seem like they were just ripped from "Monsters Inc" like sequels tend to do.

Only three characters in this film are from the first one: Mike, Sully, and Randall. They seemed, however, less developed than the original ones; perhaps it was because this is meant to be when they were younger and is meant to lead into what they will later become, but it was not as good. However, there are several new characters and much more interaction among them, which makes this film different from the original. The Oozma Cappa fraternity has cute and fairly memorable characters, and Hardscrabble made for a stern and somewhat creepy dean. And there is plenty of humor with several characters playing off of college stereotypes.

The visuals are interesting as Pixar introduces all kinds of new and different monsters onto the campus. However, they are not as amazing as the ones in the original.

One problem I did have with the film is that some aspects of it reminded me of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." Namely the following: Hardscrabble's entrance by dramatically closing the curtains, the Scaring Games (which reminded me of the challenges that Harry and the other contestants faced), Mike getting into trouble when entering the competition (like Harry when his name came out of the goblet), and Mike and his teammates being humiliated by the other competitors (again, like Harry being bad-mouthed by his fellow students) to name a few. I am not sure if this was intentional or not, but the two seemed a bit similar.

I started watching the movie having low expectations for it, but I was a bit surprised. It is not up there with Pixar's earliest films, but it has its memorable and redeeming moments. Definitely good for a rental and for seeing it now and again.

I give it 3 and 1/2 stars out of five.

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