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.

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