Friday, June 28, 2013

Mark at the Movies: Monsters University

Plot: Meet Mike Wazowski and James P. "Sully" Sullivan before they became fast friends. See them in a college setting, learning how to scare small human children and thus create the power that their world uses for energy in this Disney/Pixar prequel. Anyone who has spent time on a college campus will recognize the stereotypes here, represented by fraternities and sororities - the jocks, the hipster girls, the goth outcasts, and of course, the losers and nerds. Mike and Sully manage to get themselves expelled from the Scare Program early in the film, but a daring bet with the school's Headmaster will get them back into the program if their team wins the "Scare Games." A loss, however, will result in their expulsion from the school all together. Those Scare Games become the central piece of the film, and are the chief vehicle for our characters to grow and come to know one another, quirks, faults, and all.

Players: Billy Crystal and John Goodman return to voice Big Eye Mike and Big Furry Sully. Steve Buscemi is also back as the voice of Randy, the disappearing chameleon-like monster. Helen Mirren does a bang-up job as the stern voice of Dean Hardscrabble, the school's headmaster. Comic actors Sean Hayes and Dave Foley serve as two-headed Terri/Terry Perry. The respected Alfred Molina plays a small role as Professor Knight, and Nathan Fillion takes a turn as BMOC (Big Monster On Campus) as Johnny Worthington. Other well-known actors have bit parts: Bonnie Hunt, John Krasinski, Joel Murray, Julia Sweeney, Bill Hader and of course, it wouldn't be a Pixar movie if John Ratzenberger didn't stick his characteristic voice in.

Pilot: Dan Scanlan directed, conceived the story, and contributed to the screenplay. He's written for other Pixar movies (most notably Cars) and has directed some of their shorts, as well as a small budget "mockumentary" film called Tracy done four years ago. This was his first big budget directing job.

Performance: In many ways, the story reminded me of the 1984 comedy, Revenge of the Nerds. Mike and Sully find themselves pledged to Oozma Kappa (their slogan: "We're OK!"), a collection of social outcasts and misfits, and - as good stories often do - we get to see their evolution into the characters we enjoyed in the first Monsters movie. And not just the leads, but the rest of their fraternity brethren, as well. But the road is hardly smooth, and the writers and actors have done a very credible job here in providing obstacles and ways to overcome them. There's a very nice bit at the end of the film bridging the gap between the college years and the "BFF" duo we see in the original Monsters, Inc. And do stay through the credits, as there is a brief scene at the end, though it's likely to just leave you a little sad.

Point: Friendship. Living up to your parents expectations. Telling the truth. Letting your natural talents lead you to happiness. Overcoming your natural weaknesses with the help of friends. These are all themes touched on or explored in depth within the context of the story.

Particulars: Rated G, there is nothing objectionable here. Small children may find Dean Hardscrabble's character somewhat frightening, and certainly intimidating. But here even the bad guys are lovable.

Raymond's Rating: I'm going with two-and-a-half stars (out of four) on this prequel. While there were a tremendous amount of creative touches throughout and it was definitely an enjoyable experience, the story just didn't feel terribly original for me and unlike the first film, there were only a couple of spots where I laughed right out loud. Let's put it this way: it's a great film at matinee pricing.


Mark's Musings is published on a periodical basis - right now on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays - but that may change without notice. Find me on Twitter at This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. The Scare Games. Let's call them a Monster Dash.

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