Saturday, June 29, 2013

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls - Big Adventure, Little Fun

Perhaps I should explain myself on this one. For the past two or so years, I have been a fan of the television series known as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Thanks to my friends, and countless pictures on the internet (particularly DeaviantArt), I decided to give it a shot while Season One was still airing on the Hub network. After watching a couple episodes, I ended up getting sucked into the whole thing, fandom included, and eventually accepted the fact that I had become a fan of something that, at first glance, appears to be made for little girls. I suppose that would make me what the internet has chosen to identify as a "brony"...

Wait, where are you going?

...but that label has become less applicable with time. You see, when I first got into the fandom, it was in the good way, like, it felt pretty cool. Some of my friends were also fans and it was a little fun to find out just who else was into this show. However, it's also been quite interesting to watch something gradually go from a simple fascination into some uncontrollable obsession. Over time I've seen the fandom, the same one that I am still a part of mind you, do some pretty crazy things to the point where my last visit to San Diego Comic-Con, way back in 2012, saw various parts of the experience get absolutely pulverized by cosplayers, people buying WeLoveFine shirts in droves, others standing in line for panels and signings and, perhaps worst of all, effectively hijacking the Hasbro Toy Shop booth by relentlessly utilizing a "scorched earth" strategy to buy as many copies as possible of My Little Pony 2012 Special Edition Pony (the max was three and it was only $20, so do the math there). It was an absolute nightmare to have to deal with bronies at the convention, which was but another straw on the camel's back, as it eventually caused me to have to buy the aforementioned toy off Ebay later at an inflated price. The final straw has yet to be placed onto that metaphorical camel, but the pile has already been building up, each new straw piercing me in yet another new way to gradually lead to my disillusionment.

As that dark future has yet to hit, I'm, again, still a part of the fandom, but I haven't been as enthusiastic as I once was. I'll still watch the show and read the comics that have come out, and I have participated by writing fan fiction and speculating on the franchise's future, but that is not without its caveats. I am under the personal belief that since near the end of Season Two of the show, or perhaps even before that (which, coincidentally, happens to be the time Lauren Faust dropped out entirely), the writers have been tanking it by including reference after reference in an attempt to pander to the fanbase, which, as a result, has been contributing to the show runners really not knowing who to appeal to; the balance between kid and adult demographic appeal has been lost in favor of the sudden periphery. I read the comics, but I feel that none of them have been really all that good due to the invisible "reference war" between IDW and DHX Media, in which the winner is the one who can shove the most references into a single space without batting an eye. The first four-issue arc of the comic, for instance, has a plot that is uncannily close to that of Avatar: The Last Airbender's overall dealings with Sozin's Comet and there have been parts where the characters literally do nothing but stand around making references. The amount of references is simply astounding, but not in a way that has impressed me, and the only issues I actually have liked, because they actually focused on telling a story, have been issues five to seven and Micro-Series: Fluttershy.

At this point, I'd consider myself more of a collector, since I've been buying a select number of the toys and use the popular fandom site Equestria Daily as more of a toy catalog (Hello, EQD Bronies!). I've come a long way from my origins as a fan, but time has yet to claim me as a lost member; it probably has a long way to go.

Then along came news of a movie being made based on this incarnation of the franchise. To my surprise, it turned out to be a story that sees the ponies in human form. While, yes, the fandom has created "humanized" artwork and stories over its lifetime, the prospect of there being a canon movie surrounding this concept was actually a little disturbing. As production went along, I realized that I really didn't like the character designs, thanks to them sharing very similar silhouettes, and new details regarding the plot didn't really help to win me over. I was never that enthusiastic about the project to begin with, but then the very first trailer came out and managed to further cripple any hope I might have had.

My reaction to the first trailer.

Even when the second trailer came out, my hopes weren't raised any higher; the damage had already been done. I began to speculate that the movie would just be filled with one high school cliché after another and eventually have a completely unsatisfying payoff. The idea of Spike being a talking dog, let alone a dog in the first place, and the knowledge that there would be no less than six songs wasn't doing me any favors, especially considering that I thought that that last one got in the way of the third season finale.

If Spike did this then, it would have immediately redeemed his character.

Since I try to exercise the tenet of "don't knock it 'til you try it", tickets were pre-purchased for the most convenient showing, which happened to be today, aka the last weekend of the movie's rotating theatrical runs. When we were able to get into the theater and find some good seats, I was a bit surprised to find out that the film was literally being broadcast from a DVD, which was somewhat questionable until I remembered that these screenings were really more of a glorified showing of a made-for-TV/direct-to-video movie anyway. Not only that, but there were two other obstacles which affected my movie-going experience: the sound and the audience. The movie was played in Mono, so I think there was only one speaker playing the sound, which robbed me of some of the effect that could have been there. The audience, on the other hand, was exactly as I had feared. It was an uneven mixture of both demographics, but once again the periphery took over, and they were definitely not afraid to blatantly ignore the rules of theater etiquette, which means that I may need to watch the movie again in an alternate format so I can actually hear what was being said.

Well, I've delayed this long enough, and you probably just want to know what I think of the movie itself. To tell you the truth, I went in with very low expectations, figuring that it would be reference overdosed, topped with high school clichés and a side helping of fandom nods. After I walked out of the theater, when all was said and done, I realized...I was right.

Spoiler Note: Due to the nature of this movie, there will be unmarked spoilers regarding the events of the third season finale, "Magical Mystery Cure". Don't say I didn't warn you.

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls follows the events of the Friendship is Magic episode "Magical Mystery Cure", with Twilight Sparkle now an Alicorn Princess. She is summoned to Canterlot for a summit with Princesses Celestia, Luna and Cadance, though they are going to have it the next day. During the night, Twilight's tiara crown is stolen by a unicorn named Sunset Shimmer. In the ensuing chase, the crown is knocked into a magic portal, Sunset Shimmer escaping into it. Given the situation at hand, it is revealed that the portal leads to an alternate dimension and that it opens "once every thirty moons" (which is about two and a half years if a "moon" is a normal moon cycle). Twilight alone must venture inside, for fear of upsetting the balance between worlds, and retrieve the crown to restore order to her world. She ends up going through, Spike in tow, and discovers that she has been transformed into a human and Spike is now a dog. Humanity ensues.

I don't like it any better than you do, Twilight.

While the premise sounds not entirely unlike the show, the execution of the plot leaves something to be desired. The concept of an alternate dimension is something I'm fine with, although it's one of those plots that makes me wonder if they've run out of ideas, but the location of the portal seems all too convenient for use and the knowledge of what it is and what it does feels like they knew quite a bit about inter-dimensional travel and its effect on the space-time, which can bring up quite a few questions on that issue (though I do know now how Twilight fits in as a temporal object). Actually, I think I found the word that would describe this plot: convenient. It's convenient that Twilight would just happen to end up in a world where all of her friends happen to exist and, barring the fact that the name of the high school she ends up in happens to have a familiar name, this world just happens to share the exact same naming conventions, which just feels plain weird. Of course, I also found that the problem was solved in an even more convenient way, since not only does Sunset Shimmer not use the extremely advanced technology the human world has (compared with Equestria of course) to carry out her plan, she seems to make her plan easily destructible. When her overall plan is revealed in the end, there are so many threads that she had forgotten to consider, which made me ask to myself "okay, what now?" Finally, there's the fact that the final battle at the end is concluded rather abruptly with no buildup and just left me confused. It should also be noted that, thanks in part to the story and audience, I remained pretty much stone-faced throughout the entire film.

The characterization for everyone is very spot-on, but perhaps maybe a little too much in that direction. There's nothing added to give the impression that they are any different from their equine counterparts, but the real prize has to go to Sunset Shimmer, an original character who wins for being disappointing. At first impression, I really had no idea what to expect from her, but then she turns out to be a rather bland villain. She's ambitious in that she wants revenge on Princess Celestia, though this ambition was born out of being unreasonable and her plan depends entirely on petty acts, destruction of property aside, not being reversed by some fortune; in other words, her plan required everyone to be stupid. As a high schooler, she's even worse, since her image is that of a complete bitch and never ever straying from that path. Really, there is no clever way of establishing that she acts this way aside from belittling someone for no discernible reason.

Sunset Shimmer (right) in her natural habitat.

If there's one thing I can give praise to, it would be the animation. Never let it be said that I don't like the animation of Friendship is Magic. DHX Media did a great job here, with movement that looks smooth and shows that fluidity in My Little Pony's animation has come quite a long way from the first season of the show. The attention to detail is also quite admirable and there are some character quirks which translate well to each scene. However, if you'll allow me, there are still a couple of things that bug me. On a minor note, as a guitarist, I think that the character Flash Sentry, who becomes known for playing said instrument, is terrible at it, since they could only animate him playing a single string and a couple of bends (I know this isn't Metalocalypse, but I at least expected a chord or something). The other thing is more major, and that would be the character designs. To put it bluntly, there appear to only be a couple of character models used for every character, male or female. Yes, there are a couple here and there who have something unique to them, but for the most part they are a little too similar. The "Main 6" even have silhouettes that are almost exactly the same, which is to say nothing about the odd doll-like anatomy and the amazing technicolor skin tones which remind me of Nickelodeon's Doug.

This should illustrate my point.

As I mentioned before, the sound of the movie was presented in Mono, so my opinion of the following is based on the unfortunate lack of a second speaker. Despite this limitation, the voice acting I think was pretty good, but that's because it's the exact same voice cast from the parent series. I've always been good with this, but that's because it's never been bad. As mentioned in our previous Despicable Me review, it's a little difficult at times to tell when voice acting is good, but I think emotional range would be a good contributing factor. There is some range, but only for what exists for each character, so I don't have more to say there. As for the music, I thought the songs were just all right. A couple of them do advance the plot, while others still are mere background music, but it's also pretty much par for the course for Daniel Ingram's composing. There's nothing that really stands out if only because his quality has been mostly consistent.

Finally, there's one particular subject that I was deathly afraid of coming to pass, and yet this beast decided to rear its ugly head: fandom nods (for the periphery of course). Fandom nods are a tricky thing to handle. When a series decides to do them, they need to be done in a way that doesn't get in the way of the plot, so it's best to do it where it's subtle, but whoever knows what it's referencing will get a chuckle. While Transformers has recently been doing a ton of these in the Prime cartoon, they have all followed the tenet I have described above. Equestria Girls, on the other hand, isn't as lucky. Whenever something appeared onscreen, the fans in the audience were vigilant enough to not only cheer, but also yell out a character's name or laugh every single time a reference popped up. It is because of these blatant nods that I remain unimpressed by them, but they also still managed to get in the way of the plot thanks to this unneeded audience reaction. By contrast, the crowd I had for Yu-Gi-Oh! 3D: Bonds Beyond Time laughed at certain jokes and cheered when certain cards were played, but they at least had the courtesy to stay quiet when someone was talking.

How the script meetings must have gone.

That is to say nothing of the stinger at the very end of the credits. I had read that there was one and I had seen a hint of what it was, but when the credits rolled, I began to fear the audience reaction to this development. Every guy there seemed to know what it was, since they exclaimed at as soon as it began to appear, which tells me that they must have had the willpower to see the movie multiple times or the fandom really hates keeping secrets. In any case, I was pretty much ready to groan when it showed up, especially given how positively crazy the periphery got.

My reaction in a nutshell.

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls overall was just all right. It's plot is a little too convenient, the characters aren't developed very well and the themes of the show aren't presented in any clever way, simply serving to establish that, yes, Twilight Sparkle is still a Princess. It seems to be a reverse of what Lauren Faust had been trying to do with the series, down to introducing a romantic sub-plot that might be expanded upon in Season Four. Still, it's pretty harmless, but I feel that more effort could have gone into it to focus more on telling a good story instead of some kind of mess that really wasn't worth the hype. My disillusionment with the show has yet to come, but I feel like it's growing ever closer. Bronies will definitely love this movie, but parents who want their child to watch should probably try and let them watch it at home so that they don't experience the same alienation that the children in my screening no doubt did. It may be worthwhile to see once, but I know that thanks to my experience, I'll need to see it again.

By the way, I apologize for how Cracked-like this review may seem, but that's just how it came out. I'll be sure to rein myself in next time.

Stubs - Despicable Me

Despicable Me (2010) Starring the voices of: Steve Carell, Jason Segel. Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Kristen Wiig, Will Arnett, Danny McBride, Jemaine Clement, Jack McBrayer, Julie Andrews. Directed by Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud. Produced by Chris Meladandri, John Cohen, Janet Healy. Screenplay by Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio. Original Story by Sergio Pablos. Run Time: 95 minutes. U.S.  Color. Animated, Crime, Comedy

The Summer of Reboots and Sequels, at least the 2013 version, continues, but for a change there is a sequel that I’m actually looking forward to, the follow up to Despicable Me, aptly named Despicable Me 2. And as with any sequel/reboot it’s always nice to remind yourself why you’re looking forward to it, by going back and re-watching the original.

When I first went to see the first film in a theater, I didn’t go in with great expectations. While I appreciate Steve Carell, I can’t say I’m a major fan of his and Mac Guff, a French CGI Animation studio acquired by Illumination Entertainment, had never made a film before. But the inaugural pairing of the two turned out to be a very funny animated feature that appeals to a wide audience.

The film opens with the world realizing that the Great Pyramid of Giza has been stolen. The world wonders which super villain took it. The answer is not Gru (Steve Carell), who decides to top the crime by shrinking and stealing the moon, a plan he announces to his Minions, several hundred or possibly thousands of genetically altered yellow creatures who talk in a giggly language that sometimes sounds like English.

Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, is a super villain.
Though the announcement seems sudden, Gru promises his Minions that he and his partner, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), have been planning this theft for some time. In fact, Gru’s fascination with the moon goes back to his own childhood, when his mother, Marlena (Julie Andrews), was never supportive.

Even when Gru builds a working rocket, his mom is unimpressed.
But like any business venture, stealing the moon takes capital. And like any other small businessman, Gru goes to the bank to get a loan. But he doesn’t go to just any bank, instead it’s the Bank of Evil run by Mr. Perkins (Will Arnett). But despite being impressed by Gru’s planning, Perkins wants him to get the Shrink Ray Gru’ll need first before he’ll give him the money.

Mr. Perkins, the President of the Bank of Evil, looks a lot like Dilbert's boss.
Stealing the Shrink Ray from a secret base in Asia (which I took to be North Korea) was easy, but Vector (Jason Segel), an up and coming super villain, quickly steals it from Gru. And Gru tries to steal it back from Vector’s fortress, but is defeated by several booby traps Vector has planted around his home. (In a nice touch, The Giza Pyramid, painted to look like the sky, stands right behind the fortress.)  However,despite the problems he’s having, Gru notices three orphan girls, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher) have no trouble gaining access to sell cookies.

Vector Perkins with the Shrink Ray. I think he looks a little like Bill Gates.
The light bulb goes off for Gru and he decides to adopt the girls. Using fake credentials as a dentist, Gru goes to Miss Hattie’s (Kristen Wiig) Home for Girls. Miss Hattie is all too happy to get rid of the three and despite the references, being typed in by the minions, readily agrees. But Gru’s house is not a place for girls and he has no interest in being a parent. The girls for their part know the hardships of Miss Hattie’s and are willing to put up with a lot of bad parenting in return, just as long as they get to attend their ballet class.

Edith, Margo and Agnes, three orphans who change Gru's world.
Using the girls as a front, Gru and a couple of his minions gain access to the vault with the shrink ray, utilizing cookie-shaped robots that shoot lasers. But the cookie-robots also trap Gru inside the vault and he and his minions make a narrow escape.

On the way back to his home, the girls see Funland, a seaside theme park, and beg Gru to take them. He agrees, thinking he can dump the girls there now that he no longer has any use for them. But the attendant at the roller coaster tells Gru the girls can’t ride with an adult and so he’s trapped. He finds himself having a good time and bonding with the three. What puts him over the top is the treatment they get from a shady carnival barker (Jack McBrayer) who runs a rigged shooting game. In order to get revenge, Gru blasts a hole in the back of the stand. And Agnes, who is unicorn-obsessed, wins the stuffed animal she craves.

The girls trying to win a fluffy unicorn, but the game is rigged.
Back home, Gru contacts Perkins by video-conferencing to show him that he’s got the shrink ray. The girls have messed with his presentation, but that isn’t the reason Perkins denies him funding in favor of the younger Vector, who just happens to be Perkins’ son, Victor.

Word gets around the minions that the bank has denied funding and Gru confirms that the rumors are true and that the moon theft is off. But when Margo, Edith and Agnes offer the meager contents of their piggy bank, the minions throw in money too and the caper is back on. The only problem is that the date they’ve selected conflicts with a ballet recital the girls will be in.

Dr. Nefario doesn’t like the time Gru is spending with the girls and their interfering with their plans, so he calls Miss Hattie to say Gru has changed his mind. And despite his not liking the situation, Gru doesn’t fight it. At about the same time, Mr. Perkins informs his son, Vector, what Gru is up to. Vector tries to tag along, but Gru thwarts him and steals the moon, but arrives back too late for the recital.

Vector isn’t done. He kidnaps the girls and will exchange them for the moon. It’s an exchange Gru   agrees to, but which Vector renegs on. Angered, Gru easily defeats the sort of booby traps that stopped him the first time. Fearing Gru, Vector uses part of his fortress as an escape pod with the girls and the moon.

Dr. Nefario has meanwhile discovered that the effects of the shrink ray are only temporary and that the bigger the object the quicker it will return to normal size. The moon is already starting to resize and in a daring mid-air rescue, Gru, Dr. Nefario and the minions rescue the girls from Vector’s ship.  The moon meanwhile explodes to original size and takes up its orbit around the Earth with one new inhabitant, Vector, trapped on its surface.

Gru readopts the girls and they are a family once again. The girls perform their ballet for Gru, his mother and the minions. Everyone ends up dancing, even Vector on the surface of the moon.

Now this is not a G rated film. It’s right there in the rating reason, rude humor. It’s as if filmmakers can’t help but put in a few references to bodily functions for the supposed laughs they generate. Again this appeal to the lowest common denominator doesn’t seem to be ebbing any time soon. In the case of Despicable Me, Gru asks Dr. Nefario to build him a dart gun, which Nefario, being old and hard of hearing, mistakes for a fart gun. I’ll pause while you laugh out loud at the humorous images this no doubt brings to mind (or see below)...Ready to continue? … All right. While I’ll give this one to the creators, what they didn’t really need was a drawing of Gru on the toilet that the three orphans supposedly placed in the middle of his presentation to Mr. Perkins. I’m always a little disappointed when people find going to the bathroom all that funny. But there you have it, my complaints with the film.

Some of the rude humor. Dr. Nefario misunderstood Gru's request for a Dart Gun.
Otherwise, the humor is pretty tame, with the bulk of it coming from the Minions and even though some of them are actually named and voiced by the directors,  Pierre Coffin voices Tim, Mark, Bob, Phil and Stuart; and Chris Renaud voices Dave, Billy and Larry (someone named Jemiane Clement is credited with voicing Kevin and Jerry), one minion pretty much looks like another minion as we learn in Orientation, a short included with the movie on the Blu Ray disc, all the minions are genetically related. The minions are sort of like adult children and it is their reaction and participation in the events of the film that much of the humor comes from. Depending on the task they are given, minions can be scared children or ninja like warriors. But they all seem to share a radical devotion to Gru and treat him like a father-figure/rock star (I’m sure Mick Jagger gets similar treatment when he’s at home.)

Minions hang on every word Gru says.
The film also has fun with the depths of Gru's villainy, which is tantamount to a wading pool. In the beginning of the film, we see him cheer up a little boy whose ice cream has fallen on the pavement, by making him a balloon animal. And then once the kid is all happy, Gru pops the balloon. Next, he uses a freeze ray to get to the front of the line at a coffee shop. He's a super villain but he uses evil in small ways and ultimately, we find out, has a heart of gold.

I don’t usually think much about the music in movies, unless it’s obviously important to the story (musicals, etc.), but I think Pharrell Williams’ songs really add to the film, especially Gru’s theme, “Despicable Me”, and “Fun, Fun, Fun” which accompanies the scenes at Funland. The music Williams and Heitor Pereira wrote for the actual soundtrack also adds some really nice touches throughout the film.

Having "Fun, Fun, Fun" at Funland.
I always think it’s hard to judge voice acting. I know it can be bad, but it’s hard to know when it’s good. Carell, Segel, Brand, et al all do good work, but with the exception of Carell, I really didn’t pick up on who was doing which part until I read the credits. Maybe that says something about me, or that the voices seemed to go really well with the characters so they weren’t noticeable. That is not to say Carell doesn’t do a good job. For an actor with a tendency to sometimes go too far, his Gru is just right.

I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone with children older than seven or anyone that just wants to have good time. I only hope that this isn’t a case of beginner’s luck. I haven’t seen the studio’s other offerings, Hop (2011) and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (2012), neither of which appealed to me, based on trailers and commercials that I saw. But I’m hoping to really enjoy Despicable Me 2 and have high hopes for Minions coming in 2014.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Second Opinion - Deadpool

After getting control back over this blog from Deadpool's brief takeover, I decided it would be a good idea to play his game for myself, having played and enjoyed High Moon Studios' previous Transformers output. Like my brother, I am also a fan of the Merc With a Mouth, having gotten into the comics through the Daniel Way run, the same person who also wrote this game. I have read other Deadpool releases since then, my favorite at the moment being the current Marvel NOW! run written by comedians Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan. After seeing my brother play through this game, I gave it a go on the easier setting and found myself enjoying the game overall despite its flaws.

As Deadpool tries to negotiate with High Moon Studios over making an awesome video game about him, the script he is given by the studio (altered by him in crayon) says he has a contract to kill a media mogul named Chance White. Before the mercenary can get the chance to kill him though, the villain Mister Sinister does the killing for him, causing Deadpool to try and get revenge on him. A visit from the future from Cable, however, proves that Mister Sinister not only has bigger plans than Deadpool realizes, but also that the Regenerating Degenerate is the only hope for stopping him (not that Deadpool really cares all that much). The main and meta plots are mixed together in a way that gets the most humor out of it being a video game storyline (and it being about Deadpool), but there is at least some restraint in that it doesn't get too carried away with just making jokes the whole time. The other characters featured in this game, mainly the X-Men in particular, don't get as much screen time as the title character (as he emphasizes, it is his game after all), though they have just enough to add some variety to the Deadpool-flavored mix.

As for the characterization, it seems (based on what knowledge I have of the Marvel Universe) that everyone's character is intact, most especially Deadpool's. His humor is a little hit and miss, but overall his dialogue is very witty and hilarious, which is an important aspect of the character, and I ended up laughing about some of the stuff he said even when I wasn't playing. I don't have enough experience with the other characters to tell how true they are (though I have maybe some with Wolverine), but fortunately for newcomers, there are some helpful bios within the game that attempt to summarize what each character is like to familiarize the player with who they are (in my opinion, Cable's is the most hilarious).

In terms of gameplay, I would say it's fairly solid. You have a multitude of options for slaying your enemies, by way of a variety of guns, melee weapons, and throwable explosives (plus a teleporter for dodging attacks or just plain goofing off). Killing enemies and exploring levels earns you Deadpool Points (DP), which you can use to buy upgrades, some of which are special Momentum moves, which you can activate after filling up a respective bar on the left side of the screen (done by striking your foes and consuming tacos). When you have enough of these upgrades you can spice up your gameplay a bit, though you will probably end up sticking to a regular set of weapons; despite this, while there are some hilarious moments of the game changing up a bit, the gameplay overall gets a little repetitive, though Deadpool's one-liners help to avoid it becoming outright stale.

Stealth kills are also an option, allowing you to put your Metal Gear skills to work.
While not exactly on the level of Fall of Cybertron, the graphics are very good, even with some minor texture loading, with a mixture of bright and subdued color palettes that makes everything stand out from each other nicely. The voice work is excellent, with each voice actor doing a good job portraying their respective characters; as for matching how each character "should" sound, the only ones I was fully aware of were Nolan North as Deadpool and Steve Blum returning to voice Wolverine, which I liked hearing despite his limited screen time, otherwise I'm not all too familiar with previous portrayals of any of the other characters, but even so I thought the voices matched the characters from what I knew of them. The music, while not entirely memorable, was also done well and was pretty entertaining for the type of game this was, as it helped enhance the tone of the game whenever it was there.

While I didn't expect it to be an epic game, Deadpool is really fun to play in spite of some minor issues. It may be a little short (you can beat it in about a day), but I fear that if it were padded any, it would be the equivalent of a long and stale joke; the current result would be one that doesn't get old. If you are a Deadpool fan you should definitely have this in your collection (if it isn't already), while fans of other Marvel properties should weigh their options a little more. I think Daniel Way (and of course High Moon) did a good job putting his version of Deadpool in video game form, and I hope this game gets a sequel so we can see Posehn and Duggan's version at work someday.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Awesome Video Game

Suck it, Wolverine!

Hey there, universe, it's me, Deadpool! I've decided to hijack this joker's account... Uh, what was his name? Let me ask real quick... He says his name is Paul. Now he's teaching me how to tell you what we're all saying up in here.

I guess you could say he's-

A bit tied up at the moment.

There we go!

So, I've decided to use Paul's account here to tell you what I think of High Moon Studios' latest video game, starring yours truly. As I'm typing, Paul is telling me how to operate this "Blogger" thing he uses. Isn't that right, Paul? He says yes. I just added some cool labels and a picture.

Normally, we just use Facebook and junk!

Such a waste of time.

Now, let's see what he's said about my game. Be back in a sec...

Unpolished? Am I reading that right?

Well we did go way over budget...

And we had all those hot babes!

Yeah, but you can't deny that that just made my game more awesome. I mean, we've already got my man Daniel Way running the script...

Which you changed.

...and Nolan North agreed to portray my awesome voice. He's a man I can really count on.

The chicks dig it!

Then I've also got the X-Men tagging along with me to Genosha to help me get my revenge on Mister Sinister for stealing my kill. They even let me fly the Blackbird!

Before you crashed it. And I think their motivations were quite different.

How would you know?

Try reading the script.

Anyway, Wolverine was there, but I don't know why he feels like he has to be in everything. I mean, isn't he in every Marvel game? And doesn't he have a movie coming out?

Yeah, he already had four anyway!

There was also Psylocke and Rogue, but I don't really mind having them around. I'm also glad Domino came along, I don't know what I'd do if she didn't.

So many hot babes!

Getting hooked up would take a miracle though.

Cable was also extremely helpful. Judging by that time we were in the same book, I'm sure he didn't mind; it felt right at home for me.

I'm sure those other nerds out there would probably look at my game's graphics and complain how they aren't like BioShock Infinite or something, but do you really care when you get to see my sweet mug for a full length video game about me? Yeah, I didn't think so. Paul was okay with it, right Paul? He says yes.

But what do you really need to know about my video game? Well, it's got me for one thing...

Kind of a requirement, really.

But it also has explosions, action, music the kids will go wild for and best of all, plenty of hot babes!

And Cable!

What more could you ask for? Now go out now and buy my game!

Hopefully we'll get a sequel!

Now, as promised, I'm going to give Paul his internet back and let him go after I post this on his blog thingy and all of the places he tells me other people will get linked from.

Like anyone will read it anyway...

I wouldn't worry about that.

Oh yeah, and Posehn and Duggan back at Marvel would like some attention too. Adios!

Deadpool - Unpolished Awesome

I'd like to open this review by admitting that I'm a huge fan when it comes to Deadpool. Marvel's morally ambiguous Merc With a Mouth, specifically the Daniel Way portrayal, is what actually got me into reading comics in the first place (yes, comics period), so I hold him a bit close in that regard. No matter what comics on my pull list may come and go, the one constant will always be Deadpool. Whenever there is a comic for the Regenerating Degenerate, or even if it just features an appearance by him (including variant covers), I'm always going to pick it up when it comes out. I'm even going so far as to buy back issues/trade paperbacks of his adventures, since he is the only character I am actually that diligent about collecting. To that end, I'd recommend reading Wade Wilson's War for an idea of a great miniseries featuring Deadpool, as well as the fantastic ongoing currently being penned by Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan.

So naturally, when I saw at San Diego Comic-Con 2012 that High Moon Studios was producing a game based entirely around Marvel's other well-known Canadian mutate, I went absolutely wild. I was elated when I went to the Activision booth the next day to see what they were doing and I even declared on the internet that the mere idea of him having a game was mankind's single greatest achievement (we're all allowed to exaggerate, aren't we?). I even pre-ordered the game online as soon as it was available and willingly waited an entire year in anticipation, the release of the launch trailer the day before release making me restless with anticipation (I even at a chimichanga for the first time that night in preparation). When the game came out yesterday, I made sure to get to GameStop as soon as possible to pick up my order, later playing the game immediately upon getting home. Interestingly, I was able to beat it in one day (on the default difficulty setting by the way), so I am able to get this review out a little sooner than I had anticipated. So, you're probably asking, what do I think of it as a Deadpool fan? Well, to be honest, it's one of the most fun experiences I've had in a while, but it needed a bit of polish to bring it to a higher level.

#1 of what is currently my favorite Deadpool run.

From what I was able to gather from the campaign, penned by Daniel Way, there are actually two stories going on simultaneously. The meta-plot revolves around Deadpool contacting High Moon Studios so they can create a game based on him. However, he is unimpressed when he has to follow a script, so naturally he messes around with it (in crayon, no less) before actually doing something in the game. The second plot occurs shortly after a contract killing is interrupted by Mister Sinister, who does so by taking out Deadpool's target. In order to seek revenge, Deadpool follows Mister Sinister to the former mutant haven of Genosha, where Sinister is using mutant DNA in an attempt to create the ultimate mutant clone army.

As for the execution, it's mixed one way or another. Both plots get equal time, but the Mister Sinister plot is put a little out of the spotlight as Deadpool continues to negotiate his game with High Moon. This is probably what it's like after he's tampered with the script, along with his general uncaring nature of what's going on on Genosha. As time goes on he does seem to care a bit more, but only to the end that he would be allowed to complete his revenge, and we do get a better understanding of what is mostly there as background. On the other hand, this style of storytelling actually made it pretty easy to follow along despite the fact that I don't have much experience at all with X-Men lore, so in the end I was actually able to learn something about the world of the comics. Helpful bios are also accessible about the characters and locations in the game, so that helps out immensely. Daniel Way did his homework there and for the most part, I can't really fault him for providing such an enjoyable story, even if the X-Men who appear don't really do much in the end.

Though Cable does get a lot of attention by contrast.

What goes hand-in-hand with the Deadpool experience, which is perhaps the most important part of it, is that the script is absolutely hilarious. Deadpool's one-liners are extremely funny to the point where I have laughed about them outside the game, though I wish there was just a little more variety in some of his combat one-liners, plus there are a lot of sight gags and meta references that fit the character, or at least his Daniel Way portrayal, perfectly. To give a couple examples, there's a trophy for repeatedly slapping an unconscious Wolverine, Deadpool at one point motorboats Cable's chest while under the delusion that he's a big-breasted fan girl and Cable even gets a badass song for his bio that repeatedly asks "Who the f--- is that?" while explaining who he is. With some screwing around with the camera, since it's actually the player following Deadpool, and some unexpected gameplay changes with continued interference from Deadpool and High Moon, the game never fails to entertain or be gut-bustingly hilarious.

The only real weak point of the game I would say is the combat. More specifically, it's simply unrefined. There are a few weapons at Deadpool's disposal, three swords, and four each of guns and throwables, and while they all have their own strengths and weaknesses, something feels off about each different type in general. The melee combat is pretty reliable and I mostly used the Beauroyre Blades and *Bang Lee* Sais, but sometimes it gets a little difficult to pull off the combo that I desire, which could be due in part to a legitimate inability of me to do so or there is somehow always some kind of guard up. Really, it sometimes gets a bit ridiculous when there are several different enemy types onscreen that I'm trying to get a combo on, not taking into account the number of them that can grant offensive or defensive buffs to others nearby. It also felt like there was a lot of health stacked on top of enemies later on, which marked almost the only difference between earlier and later ones for some.

If only combat were more than just this.

Then there's the gunplay, which is also pretty reliable, but has some issues of its own. While aiming, there are a couple different things that can occur. If you choose to do some hard aiming, then it can auto-lock onto a target, though the lock is broken immediately when you touch the right analog stick. It can be a little difficult to get this going and is highly recommended not to do when trying to fight in a group. In this case you can do some run-and-gun action, but that's not entirely accurate, so constant stick manipulation is required, though you can also do some blind firing during a combo which has a great chance of working out. A similar aiming problem exists with the throwable objects, since there's really no way of doing it in a pinch without just blindly having it go in a predetermined arc based on your camera angle, so you really have to think in four dimensions to use them effectively.

But why is landing a combo so important? Well, that's because of the momentum mechanic, where the more you land hits on enemies in a short amount of time, the more a bar(s) on the left side of the screen fills up, allowing you to perform a special attack with certain button combinations to deal more damage to a surrounding group. To avoid having a combo broken from a melee attack, as well as counter these attacks, Deadpool is equipped with a teleporter than can only be used so many times in a row before needing an invisible quick cooldown period. These attacks are very effective and fun to pull off, but in order to access more and more of these attacks, you must spend DP (Deadpool Points) on upgrades that can only be purchased after you have killed enough enemies with different weapons. The limitation is a little annoying, but encourages experimentation, even if that attempt seems a little misguided. Combat is overall enough to get you by even in the annoying fights in the final stretch of the game, but with a little more polish that could have been a more fun and less repetitive part of the experience. The teleporter is fun to use outside of combat though.

Though this still sums up the combat experience.

Lastly, the game has a problem in terms of replay value, in that there is almost none. Outside of replaying the campaign to earn all the trophies or earning enough DP to finally buy everything, there's not much else to do outside of a standard challenge mode where you kill waves of enemies within a time limit to try and get on a leaderboard. It's a little sad that High Moon couldn't do anything to justify another playthrough, like having hard to find collectibles lead to a greater reward or something, but that's just the way it is for now. At least they didn't tack on a multiplayer mode; I don't even know how that would've worked.

On a technical note, the graphics are pretty decent, though a far cry from High Moon's Fall of Cybertron, but everyone does stand out despite its somewhat subdued color palette. The music is also just all right, but helps my heavy metal craving, and the voice acting is actually very good. Nolan North once again does an excellent job as Deadpool, with Steve Blum giving a good Wolverine performance again, or at least form what he is able to do. For everyone else, while I'm not familiar with what they are "supposed to" sound like, they're great as well. No complaints there.

Great performances from Nolan North (left) and Steve Blum (right).

When all is said and done, Deadpool is a game that, while insanely fun and humorous, could have used a bit more time put into the combat system. Still, I really don't regret playing it and had a blast that was enough to at least satisfy my knowledge of what the game was like. Fans of Deadpool like myself will definitely find the most enjoyment out of the game to justify the $50 price tag, though the uninitiated or other fans of Marvel comics should probably wait until the price gets a little lower, perhaps by another $10 or $20, before trying to play it. That said, I really hope the game generates enough sales for a better sequel, preferably written by current Deadpool writers Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan; they're actually hoping for it too.

Now, I think there's someone who wants to talk to me. I'm going to post this and see what he wants.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Kingdom Hearts - Simple and Clean, But Hard to Let Go

The Kingdom Hearts series has been around for a long time, like, a long time (which equates to an epoch in internet years). Ever since the first game was released all the way back in 2002, the combination of Final Fantasy and Disney elements has attracted quite a lot of fans, myself included. When I first got my hands on this game as a kid, I found myself completely drawn in and become hooked to the point where I've also played Kingdom Hearts II and the PSP prequel, Birth By Sleep (I have quite the story to tell about that one, which involves complete enthusiasm and extensive battery juggling). In a sense, I have always been a Kingdom Hearts fan, but it has been quite a while since I last played one of the games, let alone the very first. When I heard about the upcoming HD collection however, which includes the Final Mix version of the original Kingdom Hearts as well as Re: Chain of Memories and the cutscenes of the DS game 358/2 Days, I became a little more interested in revisiting the roots of the series. However, this sentiment was solidified when Kingdom Hearts III was announced during Sony's 2013 E3 press conference for release on the PS4.

While the series has eventually become notorious for its jigsaw puzzle plot filled with retcons and still-to-be-answered questions, I'd like to put all of that aside for the moment so that I may review the original Kingdom Hearts for PS2. My return to the origins of Kingdom Hearts took me on a 30+ hour journey, but the time was well worth it and has rekindled my passion for the franchise.

Basically me while playing.

On Destiny Islands, Sora, Riku and Kairi want to explore other worlds beyond their own, going so far as to build a raft that would, in theory, take them there. The night they finish it however, a storm brews on the island, leading Sora to investigate as he runs into creatures known as Heartless. He finds Riku alone, who disappears into a portal of darkness, after which Sora obtains a mysterious object known as the Keyblade, an effective anti-Heartless weapon. Meanwhile, King Mickey has left his world to try and find a way to stop the Heartless, leaving Donald and Goofy to go and find the wielder of the Keyblade. Within a short time, Sora ends up in a world known as Traverse Town, where, after spending a good deal of time exploring, he runs into Donald and Goofy, who reveal their intentions for finding him. With some convincing, Sora agrees to go to other worlds with them in search of not only King Mickey, but also his friends Riku and Kairi during the quest to stop the Heartless from contaminating the newly connected worlds.

The story may not deal with heavy issues in the same way that games like The Last of Us or BioShock Infinite would, but its discussion of the light and darkness that exist within people's hearts, and how some people can easily allow themselves to get swallowed up by the darkness, is still something worth thinking about. How it chooses to explain itself is very much like something a video game would do, but the characters are written in a way that you can actually find yourself caring about them and sort of understanding what they are going through in search of their goals. Looking back on it, the story seems a bit simple, but its themes hint at some deeper meaning about how people tend to act as a whole that makes us wonder what we would have done were we in Sora or Riku's place. What really helps drive the point home is the cinematics, both through the in-game cutscenes and opening/ending pre-rendered sequences. These are very well done and tell the story at just the right speed to keep you invested, while the ending sequence that leads into the credits actually got me to cry because I realized just how attached I had become to the original characters. Since the story is also very self-contained but leaves the door open via the stinger for future adventures, it also gives the sense that not only is there more to come, but it gets me excited at the prospect (even with all of the games that are already out by now).

The first Heartless type you come across.

On this playthrough, I also fulfilled every requirement to get the secret ending (Seal all worlds, beat the Hades Cup and get all 99 Dalmation puppies). Finally seeing this through legitimate play actually gives me some sort of idea of what happens after the game as well as wanting to play the next game in the series. If that isn't a real teaser, then I don't know what is.

Combat is one element of the gameplay that is actually pretty easy to get into. Everything happens in real time and the player selects what Sora can do by selecting options from a menu, those being straight up attacking, casting magic or activating items, along with a context-sensitive fourth slot. Once again, everything is in real time, which means that if you need to use magic or items, you need to be quick in selecting the right one at the right time (I've miscast Stop when I meant to cast Aero for instance). Fortunately, there is also available customization for both a shortcut to cast three different spells as well as the list of items Sora carries at one time (there is no auto-restocking, so be careful). As Sora levels up from killing enemies, he also has access to an increasing number of abilities that can aid him in battle, which cost Ability Points (AP) to equip, so figuring out what your setup is going to be can be the key to victory.

An example of combat.

While I enjoy the immense amount of customization, which includes weapon variations and other articles, I do have to admit that the combat, while fun, has its own level of tedium. This isn't to say that it's completely that way, but the sheer amount of button mashing required from Sora gets a little tiring from the progressively larger waves of enemies. Although the waves get shifted after a certain point in the game, the only real difference when you finally figure out the strategy for each unique Heartless, of which there are many, is how much health they have. Despite this, the player must always stay alert, as even when you know what you're doing, it's possible for Sora to eventually be overwhelmed and lose, which means that acting quickly in a tense situation is still important and I appreciate the fact that they kept that element in. Still, there was a time during the Hades cup when my thumb actually began to hurt and, not wishing to undo whatever progress got me to the fight with Hades, I took a break before trying to get back into it. In general, the bosses each require their own strategy to defeat, which I like, though some are more fun to fight than others and the many stages of the final boss reflect what I can assume is the sum of Square's experience with boss design (I mean that in a good way).

I must say that the levels are, for the most part, very well constructed. Most of the worlds are based on a Disney property, or at least the Disney version of something, such as Agrabah from Aladdin and Neverland from Peter Pan. The care put into the design of each world is remarkable, as it feels pretty much like you went into the world of the movie and are able to explore it as you see fit. No two worlds are alike and the different sections of each one feel varied enough to not feel the same, but there are a couple of levels where it feels like that anyway. Monstro is perhaps the most notorious example of this, since every room feels almost exactly the same in what can only be described as a confusing mess of a maze. No matter how many times I have gone through Monstro, I can't really navigate my way to where I want without some kind of guide. Atlantica is in a similar situation, since it's a little difficult for me to figure out exactly where to go (not helped by the fact I haven't touched the game in under a decade). Platforming elements are also integrated into the worlds, which makes things more interesting, but also a little more frustrating when it comes to Hollow Bastion, a level you play if you love to get lost or fall off the edge by accident during combat.

Atlantica: What you see is what you get.

Then of course I have to mention the sheer number of characters from the Disney and Final Fantasy games that show up in Kingdom Hearts. The game box touts over 100 from Disney, which is a number that I'm willing to agree with. We've got a lot of iconic villains, princesses and heroes who have their own role to play within the larger whole. Some can join your party, some are summons and even more are bosses to overcome. Everyone who has a favorite character from the movies on display is guaranteed to find someone they'll particularly enjoy coming across (I was like that with the Hundred Acre Wood). What's even more interesting is how, even outside of their movie plots, they are all very much in character, which is a very nice attention to detail on part of the writers, who were no doubt influenced by Disney on that end.

What really helps the characters however is the voice acting. The original characters all have voices that match their appearance and act in a way that makes their motivations come across as more convincing and meaningful. For those who are from Disney or Final Fantasy, they are either voiced very well or sound exactly how they do in the source. It feels like they really went out of their way to capture the authentic voices. While it sounds like they used a lot of the original voice actors, they also managed to get some incredibly convincing sound-alikes for some of the characters, a detail which you probably wouldn't even think about while playing. However, that didn't seem to prevent them from making a blunder when dealing with the secret Sephiroth boss fight. Who would you get to voice the main antagonist of Final Fantasy VII, a man who had previously gone mad from learning that he was injected with a god, and at the same time someone who is perhaps the hardest fight in the entire game? Why, none other than Lance Bass of course!


Graphically speaking, Kingdom Hearts isn't the best looking PS2 game, but it definitely captures the feel of each universe very well and has its own special charm just for that. Some of the faces feel wooden as a character speaks, but I learned to not let it bother me and just go with it. The visuals are very good anyway, which is fortunate considering that it has actually aged pretty well, although you can sometimes see the angles in the polygons. The music is also scored very well, with music that fits each world well and gives combat a certain feeling. Sometimes however it sounds a little repetitive, though Neverland has easily one of the best themes, but it's interesting what they were able to accomplish just by using the PS2's tone generator.

In the end, Kingdom Hearts is an incredible game for the PS2 and is a must play for all. The story is a little simple but pretty effective and the combat, while repetitive at times, is very fun and customizable in approach. Atmospherically, the developer managed to retain everything good from their source material and created something that is a great marriage of two different worlds. Sora's journey may not be over after this game, but the rather self-contained approach is something that simply has to be admired and playing this will help you appreciate the hard work that went into this title. My passion for Kingdom Hearts has been renewed and I hope that it sparks something within you as well.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Monsters University - Go, Oozma Kappa!

Since the fallout of Pixar's Cars 2 disaster, I have become weary for the animation studio's recent output (while Brave fared better than Cars 2, it still failed to impress). Because of this, I wasn't sure how the studio's latest feature, Monsters University, would hold up with their latest odds of success. Due to this movie being a prequel to the well-received Monsters, Inc., I recently re-watched that movie after a long time to see how well University would work as backstory. Going in with little expectations, not only did Monsters University surpass them, I think the movie has proven itself to be Pixar's best feature in a while.

After an iffy short called Things With Faces: The Movie The Blue Umbrella, the movie begins with a young Mike Wazowski (Noah Johnston) on an Elementary School field trip to Monsters, Inc. When his class gets to the Scarefloor, Mike gets an opportunity to see top Scarers in action, but because he is shorter than the other students, he ends up following another monster through a door to the human world, where he sees what a monster does. When the scaring is over, Mike makes it back to the monster world, where the same monster he followed through the door encourages him to become a Scarer due to the fact that he (Wazowski) went in undetected. Years later, an older Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) enrolls in the titular Monsters University, the same college the other monster years ago graduated from, hoping to make his dream come true as a Scarer. On his first day, however, he finds competition with another monster named James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), who is overconfident to the point where he believes his natural talent will be enough to allow him to graduate as a top Scarer.

Despite my worst fears, the story of Monsters University is actually pretty well written. The main purpose of the movie is to establish how Mike and Sully met, which it pulls off nicely with some good character development, with some inevitable call forwards to the original Monsters, Inc. made in the process. Though the plot itself is a little more stock at times (there are only so many plots to base a story on, after all), the execution is fairly original and even provides some more insight on the workings of the monster world. While there are some quibbles like still not explaining why monsters find humans toxic and a plot hole created with a line in the original ("You've been jealous of my looks since the Fourth Grade."), once you get past them the story is rather enjoyable.

Bet you didn't know Mike and Randall used to be roommates.
One thing I won't knock this movie down for is the animation. Pixar's animation has improved greatly over the years, and Monsters University not only shows just how far their technology has come (the difference is startling when you compare it to the original Monsters, Inc.), but also proves that the animation will only continue to improve in the years to come; this is especially noticeable when it comes to rendering fur, lighting, and reflections, but all around it is quite the visual upgrade over its predecessor. This prequel continues with the original's top notch voice work, though it helps that some actors from the original movie make their return here to reprise their original roles, with each actor putting on their best performance to sound unique without resorting to cultural stereotypes.

Backing up all of this is the music, which, like all good scores, does a great job at matching the tone of a scene. In this movies case, it also does a nice job at selling the atmosphere of a typical college campus (or at least to the extent of how one is usually depicted in fiction, let alone this movie). Of special note is the song "Island" by progressive metal band Mastodon, though I won't give away anything here as to how it is used, just something to look out for during the feature.

While it doesn't quite hold up to the original Monsters, Inc., Monsters University comes close, placing itself among Pixar's greater works of animation. Its story is executed well and you actually get some more insight on not only the main characters of the 2001 original, but also the monster world as a whole; it may be an unnecessary prequel to an already great movie, but it's an enjoyable unnecessary prequel nonetheless. If this is your first time with the characters Mike and Sully, I would suggest watching Monsters, Inc. first before going into the theater to see Monsters University. Not only that, I would recommend watching the original first, then University, then the original again to see if your viewpoint of its story and characters changes at all (this would be much easier to pull off when the DVD/Blu-ray comes out for University and you own both movies on either of these formats). This film appears to be a step back in the right direction for Pixar, but let's see if their next movie, The Good Dinosaur, continues that trend and proves that the studio that once could has finally gotten back on its feet.

So long as they avoid making this again, I will be satisfied.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Stubs - Monsters, Inc.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) Starring the voices of: John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Mary Gibbs, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly, Frank Oz. Directed by Pete Docter. Produced by Darla K. Anderson. Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Daniel Gerson. Original Story by Pete Docter, Jill Culton, Jeff Pidgeon and Ralph Eggleston.  Run Time: 92 minutes. U.S.  Color. Animated, Fantasy

While Pixar’s reputation has taken a hit lately, back in 2001, the computer-animation studio was riding high after their initial splash with Toy Story (1995), A Bug’s Life (1998) and Toy Story 2 (1999). Monsters, Inc. was the company’s fourth feature film. There seemed to be a definite pattern to Pixar’s success, besides a good story and top-flight computer animation, the first three films had featured talented actors: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey; music by Randy Newman and a supporting voice by John Ratzenberger (of Cheers fame).

Monsters, Inc. followed suit starring John Goodman from TV’s Rosanne and several Coen brothers films; and Billy Crystal, the stand-up comic, Saturday Night Live and Soap alum in the lead roles. And for the fourth straight film, songs by Newman, more than an hour’s worth. (Sadly none of the songs rise to the heights of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Toy Story). Ratzenberger is also back in a small, but supporting role.

James P. Sullivan (Goodman), a big blue furry monster, is the top Scarer in Monstropolis, a city inhabited by monsters, which is powered by the screams of human children. The monsters enter through the child’s closet and capture the screams to turn the turbines. However, the times they are a-changing. Thanks to television and the internet, human children are much harder to scare and Henry J. Waternoose III (James Coburn) is determined to find a solution.

James P. "Sulley" Sullivan voiced by John Goodman
Sulley, as he’s known, lives with his assistant and bestest bud, Mike Wazowski (Crystal) a one-eyed green ball with arms and legs, whom, according to the story, have known each other since childhood (quick memory erase needed for the prequel). Sulley and Mike have a rivalry with Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi), a chameleon-like monster, and Jeff Fungus (Frank Oz), a red-skinned three-eyed monster, for being the number one Scarer.

Mike Wazowski, voiced by Billy Crystal.
The one rule is never to bring back a child or even a hint of a child from the human world to the Scarefloor, as George Sanderson finds out when he accidentally brings back a sock. All hell breaks loose as agents from the CDA (Child Detection Agency) arrive and decontaminate him (shave off all his fur) and explode the offending sock, like it was a bomb.

Like any bureaucracy, there is paperwork, which Mike is supposed to file with Roz (Bob Peterson), a slug-like raspy-voiced monster who is the administrative clerk for the Scarefloor. But Mike would rather go on a date with Celia (Jennifer Tilley), the receptionist, who, like Mike has one-eye, but also has snakes for hair and tentacles for legs. Being a pal, Sulley offers to file the paperwork for him. And that’s when things start to go awry. Sulley goes on to the Scarefloor to retrieve the paperwork. There he discovers that a door has been left activated. (We learn later Randall left it there and Mike tells us it’s an attempt to cheat his way to the top).When Sulley investigates, he accidentally brings back a young girl, who he names Boo (Mary Gibbs), from the human side.

Roz, voiced by Bob Peterson.
Try as he might, Sulley can’t shake Boo. After several attempts to put her back, he ends up hiding her, when Randall returns to return the activated door to storage. Scared of facing George Sanderson’s fate, Sulley hides Boo in a bag and goes looking for Mike to help him. Mike is at Harryhausen’s (get it?) on a date with Celia for her birthday. While Sulley is trying to explain the situation to Mike, Boo escapes. Her being discovered results in the CDA being called to the scene. In the chaos that erupts, Sulley and Mike manage to escape and take Boo home, where they discover she is not toxic after all.

Mike on a date with Celia (Jennifer Tilley) at Harryhausen's.
The next day, they try to smuggle Boo into the factory and send her back, but Randall gets wind of the plan and tries to kidnap Boo, grabbing Mike by mistake. Randall reveals to Mike that he has built a Scream Extractor that will make the company’s current method of collection redundant. Sulley saves Mike from Randall’s experimentation, replacing Mike with Fungus.

Randall, voiced by Steve Buscemi.
Sulley reports Randall to Waternoose, but finds out that the two are really in cahoots. Waternoose exiles Sulley and Mike to the Himalayas. There they make friends with the Abominable Snowman (John Ratzenberger) who informs them there is a village nearby. Seizing on the opportunity to get back to the monster world and save Boo, Sulley runs off. Mike, who blames Sulley for their predicament, refuses to go.

Henry J. Waternoose III, voiced by James Coburn.
Sulley returns and rescues Boo from the Scream Extractor. Mike returns and apologizes to Sulley and together they fight and defeat Randall.

During the fight, Randall chases Sulley and Mike down the closet door conveyor belt through the warehouse where there are millions of doors. (Think the baggage claim scene in Toy Story 2 only on steroids.) Boo’s laughter activates the doors, and the chase goes back and forth between human and monster worlds. That is until Randall gets trapped in the human world in a southern trailer park, where Randall is mistaken for an alligator and beaten by hillbillies (LOL, backward hicks).

Boo’s door is sent by Waternoose and the CDA to the Scarefloor. Mike distracts the CDA agents while Sulley escapes with Boo and her door. But Waternoose isn’t done and follows. Waternoose is tricked into confessing his plan to kidnap children and gets busted by the CDA and their leader, who happens to be Roz.
Sulley and Mike say good-bye to Boo and return her home. Roz orders her door to be destroyed (shredded). Sulley ascends to the chairmanship of Monsters, Inc., replacing Waternoose. And he has a plan to end Monstropolis’ energy crisis.

Productivity is up when Sulley’s new plan is implemented. The monsters now enter the children’s room to entertain them. Laughter proves to be ten times more powerful than screams. Mike takes Sulley to show him Boo’s door, which he has been rebuilding piece by piece from the shredder. Sulley has kept the last piece as a keepsake and when he puts it back, the door activates. Sulley is then able to enter Boo’s room and the two are reunited.
Boo, voiced by Mary Gibbs.
The movie is funny, clever and ambitious. Chalk up another win for Pixar, which always seems to try and out do themselves. The film was a great success at the time and it still holds up a dozen years later. Just like the other Pixar films, Monster’s, Inc. was a financial success, further cementing Pixar’s then reputation as the little hit-making studio that never missed. Reality set in a few releases ago (can anyone say Cars 2?) and we now know that Pixar is mortal and not perfect, though they have yet to suffer an out and out flop.

If there is a problem with Monsters, Inc. it’s that there might actually be too much story for the intended audience. I know that I often complain about a lack of story in films, but in those cases it’s not really the quantity, but rather the quality. However, you can have too much. There is a balancing act that a company like Pixar has, trying to appeal to a family audience, which really means children, and trying to keep the adults entertained and engaged. This is not easy and sometimes Pixar films can get out of balance. In order to squeeze everything in, they resort to stereotypes as short cuts, like Sulley’s mentor, Waternoose, who is really evil. We’ve seen it before, so we accept it and move on. And the Himalayan bit seems tacked on, serving only as a way of getting John Ratzenberger into the film.

There are also some plot holes. To begin with, why are human children considered toxic? I don’t really think the film explains that very well. It’s just an accepted myth that every monster believes. Old man Waternoose obviously knows better as he is unafraid of Boo when he finally meets her, coupled with the fact he and Randall are planning to kidnap human children and bring them back to the monster world to extract their screams for power. But why the pretense in the first place, except to show us the storm-trooping CDA in action?

And for me, Mike’s return from the Himalayas happens much too quickly and easily. We’re told the Nepal village is a three day hike and we see Sulley flying down the hill on a homemade sled while Mike is back at the Abominable’s cave sulking. It is a perilous trip for Sulley, down the mountain in a snow storm, but Mike pops back at Monsters, Inc. within a few minutes of Sulley’s arrival; mad and throwing lemon snow cones, but no worse for wear. How did that happen? We all knew he would return, but his has no adventure or thought process attached to it. He obviously gets over his resentment very quickly; are we supposed to believe there is another sled ready to go?

I know you’re saying “bitch, bitch, bitch, it’s a kid’s movie”, but the holes/plot convenience are still there. Acceptance of bad storytelling starts when the audience is young and films like this are gateways to a lifetime of poorly written television, movies and web content to follow.

This is not to say that I don’t like Monsters, Inc. I had not seen the film in over a decade, so these comments are based on my most recent viewing, not when I watched it in the movie theater. The film holds up very well and even though Pixar is constantly striving to improve their renderings, this still looks very good and state-of-the-art.

The formula at Pixar was also changing. After their next film, Finding Nemo (2003), the films would start coming out one a year. Randy Newman would no longer be the only composer. Soon they would be eaten up by the larger Disney company and become a cog in that company’s larger production wheel. Some of the independent mindedness would start to think more corporate. Eventually, this would catch up to Pixar.

While I would definitely recommend Monsters, Inc., especially if you’ve never seen it, I don’t know yet if I can say the same for the prequel, Monsters University. I’m hoping the newer film can live up to the legacy of this one. But given Pixar’s recent offerings, I’m hopeful, but not overly optimistic.