Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Movie – Monsters University (2013)

Monsters University is the latest film from Pixar, the once independent animation company that was acquired by Disney a few years back.  It is a prequel to their very successful 2001 film Monsters, Inc.  You do not have to have seen that film to watch this one, but I would still recommend it.  Some of the basics of the “scaring” events might not make much sense if you have not watched the first film.  There are also a number of references and in jokes that you would miss.  In Monsters University we see how Mike and Sully from the first film met and became friends.  It’s not as good as the first film, but if you like that one then this is still worth seeing.

For anyone who has followed sports since they were young you recognize when your athletic hero is starting to lose their skills.  He/she is a little slower, a little less prolific in scoring, a little quicker to tire out.  Sure, they still have flashes of what made them the best, but they come less often.  It’s a hard moment when you realize this – especially if you are the same age as the athlete who’s “getting old.”  I mention this because Pixar feels like that athlete.  They produced outstanding films for so many years it felt like it would go on forever.  Like that athlete, though, they couldn’t keep producing at that ridiculously excellent level forever.  Whether it’s the loss of too many creative people to their own endeavors, or the acquisition by Disney (“hey, let’s release direct to video sequels in the theaters” – Cars 2 and Planes – “and make another Disney princess” – Brave), but Pixar just doesn’t seem to have “it” like they used to. 

Now that’s not to say that they make horrible movies.  It is only in comparison with their earlier efforts that the most recent films feel like they are a little less than what was hoped for.  That’s the way I see them, at least.  Both Up and Toy Story 3 were five star movies for me.  That’s not a rating I give out very often (maybe once or twice a year.)  In comparison, the three star Cars 2 and Brave (and yes, Monsters University) feel like they could have been better, but are still worth seeing if you like what they present on screen.

For anyone old enough to have seen 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, this is basically an animated version of that.  Since John Goodman (voice of Sully) was in that film, too, I guess it is fitting.  Monsters University is also filled with lots of references to college life, which makes it something that might lose the younger kids.  There was a very young girl wandering around my theater, bored out of her skull.  Thankfully, she kept quiet.  And thankfully for her parents who were not watching her, no one tried anything with her.

Monsters University will probably appeal most to those folks who are either in college, or who went to one.  There are lots of little jokes about the kinds of people you’d meet on campus, whether it’s an art major, a folk singer, a guy throwing a Frisbee, monsters with their Important Causes, frat guys and girls, etc.

The movie has a pretty standard story where Mike and Sully don’t like each other at first, but have to learn to work together to succeed.  This primarily comes with the Scare Games competition among the fraternities/sororities and then the events that follow.  While I chuckled here and there, I really didn’t laugh as much at this one as I did at Monsters, Inc.  In fact, I would almost call Monsters University a drama.  The dramatic elements of the story were much more effective than the comedic ones.

This doesn’t mean there are not fun moments.  We see the villain from the first film as a nerdy college freshman in this one.  We get cameos from Roz and the Yeti from the first film.  The latter also features an in joke for Cheers fans since John Ratzenberger voices the Yeti.  Since Billy Crystal voices Mike there is also an in joke for fans of The Princess Bride when we hear Mike talking in his sleep.  And while it’s not the “blooper reel” we used to get with early Pixar films, there is another scene after the credits.

You may play a guessing game with the voices while you are watching this.  Just about every character is performed by someone that might sound familiar to you, whether it’s Helen Mirren as the Dean, Steve Buscemi once again as Randall, Nathan Fillion as the leader of the coolest fraternity on campus, Sean Hayes and Dave Foley as a two headed monster, Alfred Molina as a professor, Aubrey Plaza as a goth monster, and many more like John Krasinski, Julia Sweeney, Bonnie Hunt, etc.

If you liked Monsters, Inc. and want to spend more time with Mike and Sully then by all means see this film.  Just don’t be expecting it to re-create the magic of the first one.  If you are just looking for a way to keep your little kids occupied for a couple hours then this may or may not do the trick.  If you like Pixar in general, just be aware that this film is more on par with their last two and not some of their earlier gems.  For everyone else, if this film sounds interesting then I recommend you give it a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


  1. Good review Chip. Loved the original so I automatically thought I was going to love this. Didn't quite happen, mostly because it seems like Pixar may have been trying a bit too hard here.

    1. Yes, other than Toy Story 2 and 3, which were done by the same group of Pixar creative people, none of their sequels/prequels done under Disney have lived up to the originals. I now hear they are doing a sequel to Finding Nemo.

  2. Not as good as the first film, but still worth seeing. That hits the nail squarely. It's cute and fun, but nothing groundbreaking or life changing. Sometimes that's okay.

    1. "It's cute and fun, but nothing groundbreaking or life changing. Sometimes that's okay."

      That's pretty much always okay with me. It's only when I get my expectations up that I get disappointed. I was hoping for better from Pixar. Now with three movies in a row like that I guess I'm going to have to adjust my expectations.