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Monsters University - Movie Review

4 stars

While Pixar is certainly no slouch as it releases its 14th feature film and has rubbed elbows for the last dozen or so years with the mightiest of established studios, what is truly amazing is that its latest cartoon features more heart and sentiment and its digital characters walk around with more human soul than many of the year’s most celebrated live-action movies. That’s the case with Pixar’s Monsters University, the studio’s first go at a prequel, and its return to form after slipping with its last two efforts, Cars 2 and Brave.

So, what’s the lesson to be learned? For Pixar, it’s simple: keep doing what you’re doing. For other, more established studios continuing to take chances on brawn, might, and super-human spectacle, it’s more complicated. Keep taking chances on big $250 million+ tent-pole blockbusters, and eventually the house is going to come crashing down. Personal, heartfelt storytelling almost always wins and Monsters U certainly scores big with its latest.

The story it tells isn’t necessarily fresh nor is it all that creative, after all it’s a revisitation, but what it lacks in thematic originality is more than made up for in wit and genuine heart.

Monsters University is the prequel to 2001’s (can it really have been twelve years ago?) wildly popular hit, Monsters, Inc. that told the story of how monsters generate their city’s power by scaring children. University tells the story of how that movie’s mains characters - green eye-balled Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and fur-covered yeti, Sully (John Goodman) - became best friends when they met in college.

The setting is the ivy-walled campus of Monsters University where Mike furiously studies his scare manual with hope of one day becoming a fearsome scarer. He knows that the best scarers come from MU, but his plans are derailed when he crosses paths with MU legacy student Sully, a natural-born scarer.

Mike is the typical nerdy brainiac driven by his desire to one day work on the scare floor at Monsters, Inc., while Sully coasts on the name of his legendary father and his own natural talent. However, the pair’s competitive spirit and out-of-control hijinks get them kicked out the school’s elite Scare Program.

As fate would have it, their only hope at getting back into the program requires them to do the unthinkable: work together - along with their odd-ball, ragtag bunch of Animal House-like fraternity brothers from Oozma Kappa - to win The Scare Games.

Monsters University is Mike’s story. He’s a dreamer with ambitions that might be bigger than his cuddly little self can achieve. But, not one to be discouraged by the roadblocks he encounters, Mike’s drive and determination play into the story’s rich themes of self-discovery, facing reality, and the idea that one door closing means another is opening.

Facing the inherent challenges of making a prequel (or even a sequel for that matter), the filmmaking team actually pulls off a fairly significant feat with Monsters University. Revisiting the story and approaching it as a prequel means that audiences already know how the story ends. So uncovering new drama while also presenting something refreshing about the characters can be a make-or-break proposition. But director Scanlon and his Pixar cohorts manage to retain the spirit of the original and deliver an emotionally impactful conclusion to boot.

Anyone who has been to college can appreciate the film’s attention to all the things we liked - and disliked - about the university process. Yet, even the younger tots have plenty to laugh at as there’s a whole new crop of characters with their own set of monstrous idiosyncrasies.

So, Pixar may no longer be the little underdog film company that could. But it is undoubtedly still the film company that knows how to write circles around its much more elephantine competition. In fact, I’ll say it right here: even the cute little six-minute film short called The Blue Umbrella that precedes Monsters University has twice the heart and humanity than anything put out this summer by Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan. Just remember, you heard that here first.[/tab]

[tab title="Film Details"]

Monsters University - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: G for general audiences.
110 mins.
: Dan Scanlon
: Robert L. Baird
Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi; Helen Mirren; Alfred Molina
Genre: Family | Animated | Comedy
Monsters University
Memorable Movie Quote: "I am going to scare circles around you this year."
Official Site:
Release Date: June 21, 2013
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available

Synopsis: Ever since college-bound Mike Wazowski (voice of Billy Crystal) was a little monster, he has dreamed of becoming a Scarer—and he knows better than anyone that the best Scarers come from Monsters University (MU). But during his first semester at MU, Mike's plans are derailed when he crosses paths with hotshot James P. Sullivan, "Sulley" (voice of John Goodman), a natural-born Scarer. The pair's out-of-control competitive spirit gets them both kicked out of the University's elite Scare Program. To make matters worse, they realize they will have to work together, along with an odd bunch of misfit monsters, if they ever hope to make things right.[/tab]

[tab title="Blu-ray Review"]

No details available.[/tab]

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