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Movie Review: Monsters University

June 21, 2013

Monsters University PosterMonsters University – A Walt Disney Release

http://disney.go.com/monsters-university/#/characters

Release Date: June 21st, 2013

Rated G for animated action

Running time: 103 minutes

Dan Scanlon (dir.)

Robert L. Baird (screenplay and story)

Daniel Gerson (screenplay and story)

Dan Scanlon (screenplay and story)

Randy Newman (music)

Billy Crystal as Mike (voice)

John Goodman as Sullivan (voice)

Steve Buscemi as Randy (voice)

Helen Mirren as Dean Hardscrabble (voice)

Peter Sohn as Squishy (voice)

Joel Murray as Don (voice)

Sean Hayes as Terri (voice)

Dave Foley as Terry (voice)

Charlie Day as Art (voice)

Alfred Molina as Professor Knight (voice)

Nathan Fillion as Johnny (voice)

Julia Sweeney as Ms. Squibbles (voice)

Monsters University

©Walt Disney.  All Rights Reserved.

Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) enthusiastically arrives for his first day in Monsters University.

Our reviews below:

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Monsters University Review By John C.

**** (out of 4)

Before Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) became the best friends that we first met in the beloved Monsters, Inc. back in 2001, they were college rivals competing against each other.  The story of how they learned to work together is the basis of Monsters University, the first prequel from the geniuses at Pixar.  Playing as a very entertaining campus comedy with an incredibly touching story about finding yourself, this is another winner from the studio.

Every since he went on a school field trip to the famous Scare Floor, Mike has dreamed of being a scarer, bringing in energy for Monstropolis through the screams of human children.  Now a bright eyed young adult, he is a student at the prestigious Monsters University, run by the fierce Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren).  Knowing scaring by the book, but not necessarily in practise, Mike is constantly upstaged by James P. Sullivan, who is riding on the reputation of his family name.  As Sulley immediately proves himself on campus and is invited by Johnny (Nathan Fillion) to join the popular fraternity of Roar Omega Roar, Mike is sadly pushed to the sidelines.

But this jealousy affects them both and they find themselves on the fringes of campus life, impulsively signing up for the annual Scare Games, a series of challenging competitions.  They are welcomed with open arms by the independent fraternity Oozma Kappa, run by the likeable Scott “Squishy” Squibbles (Peter Sohn) and his mother (Julia Sweeney).  Their frat brothers include new age philosophy major Art (Charlie Day), retired salesman and mature student Don Carlton (Joel Murray), and two headed brothers Terri & Terry Perry (Sean Hayes and Dave Foley).  Their team might not be the scariest, but they certainly are the most accepting and free to be themselves.

Although Monsters University doesn’t surpass the untouchable greatness of the original, this prequel absolutely holds up to the first film and delivers an incredibly satisfying preceding chapter to the overall story.  The majority of the narrative is set against the backdrop of the Scare Games, including some truly inventive set pieces, and offering a lot in terms of the interactions between the characters.  It’s wonderful to watch them grow throughout the film, especially when we know where they will eventually end up in their lives.  The attention to detail is impressive, tying every little thing together beautifully, keeping with the continuity of the first film.  There are also some hilarious scenes, and the new characters of Oozma Kappa are delightful.

The original Monsters, Inc. has always been one of my favourite films, and it’s a great example of a narrative that resolved itself beautifully with a bittersweet and unforgettable final scene.  This prequel is the perfect way to spend more time with the incredibly appealing characters in this richly developed world, without changing the events of the first film.  Now the audience that grew up with the original film twelve years ago is the right age to be thinking about or attending college, and the themes of Monsters University are incredibly resonant for the teenage and young adult demographic.

The message of accepting yourself no matter what, even if it means changing your dreams or the ways that other people perceive you, are fearless and lead to some genuinely touching moments.  A stunning climactic sequence that includes a beautifully drawn scene between Mike and Sulley by the water brings these decidedly mature ideas full circle and won’t soon be forgotten.  The animation is wonderfully rendered throughout the entire film, with incredible detail poured into every frame.  The musical score by Randy Newman is another knockout, and the Axwell & Sabastian Ingrosso track “Roar” is awesome.

What I love about Monsters University is the message that sometimes it’s “okay to just be OK,” even if it means putting aside your dreams and starting from the bottom.  This is an incredibly entertaining college movie that allows us to spend more time with the loveable main characters, while offering a touching message about accepting yourself regardless of how other people see you.  That’s exactly why Monsters University gets such a high grade.

The Blue Umbrella:  Playing before Monsters University is The Blue Umbrella, a short film directed by Saschka Unseld that uses striking photorealistic animation and a classy soundtrack to bring a simple story of chance encounters to life.  A blue umbrella falls for a red umbrella on a rainy afternoon, coming together in charming ways.  The characters are cute and the visuals are a feast for the eyes.

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Monsters University Review by Erin V.

**** (out of 4)

Taking place years before Monsters, Inc., Monsters University tells of Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley’s (John Goodman) college days.  The movie opens on Mike as a grade-schooler, where on a field trip to Monsters Inc. to learn about scream energy, he realizes what his dream job would be – a scarer.  As we know from Monsters, Inc., scarers in the monster world are elite… but only the best pass the tough classes at Monsters University.

But Mike perseveres and as an adult gets accepted into the Scare program.  It is there that he meets Sulley – who seems to think that he’s already scary enough and passing the class should be a breeze.  Mike on the other hand is an A+ student who lacks an actual scariness level when it comes to putting things to the test.  To put it lightly, the two do not get along, and after an incident gets Mike and Sulley kicked out of the Scare program, their only chance at earning their way back in is to win the elite Scare Games – which will name the scariest monsters on campus.  With the ragtag fraternity group of Oozma Kappa, Mike and Sulley have to learn to put their differences aside to work together and maybe even show everyone what they can do.

As the story unfolds, the film takes some quieter more emotive turns in the last act that I found to be really well done.  Monsters University is a film that is not just about chasing a dream, but rather figuring out who you are and where your strengths lie.  I wouldn’t think of spoiling where the film ends up, but I must say it is a perfect tie-in to Monsters, Inc.  The new characters – especially those in Oozma Kappa – are fun and appealing, and as always the animation here is top-notch.  Twelve years later, Pixar has made the characters of Monsters, Inc. shine again.

I must note though that it will be interesting to see how this film does with the now college-age fans of the original film versus the youngest of current moviegoers.  There are a lot of talking scenes, and ‘college’ references that I think will resonate more with older, but also enough colours and action to keep younger entertained.  I liked it for that and I hope others will respond to it too.  It is a very well made film that I would heartily recommend.  Oh, and be sure to stay to the end of the credits for an extra little scene.

The Blue Umbrella:  Attached to showings of Monsters University, is the charming short film The Blue Umbrella.  The film takes place on a rainy street where the rain drops start to musically drip on the anthropomorphic gutters and mailboxes, and umbrellas are unfolded by the people passing by.  When a blue umbrella meets a red umbrella, a romance is born and they struggle to not lose each other in the storm.  The short is nice and sweet with a fun use of music, and has a surprisingly mature colour palette.  Be sure to arrive on time for Monsters University so you don’t miss this little extra piece of filmmaking.

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Monsters University Review by Nicole

**** (out of 4)

Once again, Pixar has delivered an amazing film with Monsters University.  The film begins when Mike is a child.  He has no friends, so his teacher has to be his buddy on the school field trip to Monsters, Inc.  On the field trip, he wanders off, but is safely brought back by a student intern from Monsters U.  Mike vows that when he gets older, he will go to university and become a scarer.  The movie then moves forward to when Mike (Billy Crystal) is a young adult.  He is going to Monsters University, and is eager to learn.  His roommate is none other than Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi), also a Scaring major.

But slacker Sulley (John Goodman) is always trying to one up Mike, until Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) tells them to shape up or get out.  Sulley isn’t studying and Mike is just not scary enough.  Even more discouragement comes from the “cool kids,” a fraternity of bullies run by Johnny (Nathan Fillion), a bullish monster.  Even Randall, Mike’s initial roommate, wants to join the bullies out of fear of being regarded as “nerdy.”  Now Mike and Sulley’s only hope is to join the Scare Games, a series of events that will determine who is the Top Scarer.

The two join up with Oozma Kappa, a fraternity of ragtag individuals who didn’t fit in any other group.  There’s New Age Philosophy Major Art (Charlie Day), Terri and Terry (Sean Hayes and Dave Foley), mature student Don (Joel Murray), and Squishy (Pete Sohn), an adorable monster who lives with his mom, Miss Squibbles (Julia Sweeney).  Oozma Kappa is run out of the Squibbles home, by the jovial Miss Squibbles herself.  While they may not be the most popular club on campus, they are the friendliest.

Monsters University has a lot of heart.  I really like the message of being yourself no matter what others may think.  Much of of society is obsessed with “fitting in” and conforming to the masses.  The Oozma Kappa fraternity lives up to their initials by being OK as they are.  Every little detail in the film ties in with Monsters, Inc.  Even the timeline is correct, with Monsters University taking place in the 1980s, as the original came out in 2001.  This prequel has an unexpected ending, which works really well in the film.

Monsters University is a fun movie with a lot going for it.  Be sure to stay through the end credits for a bonus scene.

The Blue Umbrella:  The Blue Umbrella is an adorable little film about love.  When Blue Umbrella sees Red Umbrella, it’s love at first sight.  However, a big gust of wind blows Blue away.  Will Blue ever see Red again?  This is quite different than Pixar’s other shorts.  It combines hyperrealistic animation with loveable, whimsical anthropomorphisms.  Everything from umbrellas, mail boxes, gutters and even buildings come to life, unseen by the human pedestrians.

The objects are characters, with subtle, adorable faces.  The animation, while incredibly cute, maintains a mature feel throughout.  The film is silent, with music and the faces of friendly objects telling the story.  After seeing The Blue Umbrella, you will never see the city the same way again.

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Monsters University Review by Maureen

***1/2 (out of 4)

When little Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) takes a field trip to the Monsters, Inc. building with his Frighton elementary class, he knows exactly what he’ll be when he grows up – a Scarer.  And the best place to learn that, he discovers, is Monsters University.

Flash forward several years to an enthusiastic Mike arriving on the MU campus for orientation day.  The place is swarming with clubs and fraternities to join and everyone seems so friendly.  Even Mike’s new roommate, Randy (Steve Buscemi) who is also in the Scarers program, seems like a perfect match.  But Mike soon realizes that fitting in is not that easy and studying hard is no guarantee of success.

It’s in Scaring 101 class that Mike meets Sulley (John Goodman), the popular guy on campus who has gotten used to relying on the respected Sullivan family name and his big physique to get by without studying.  The two take a dislike to one another and when they disrupt the class in front of the scary Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), they are given an ultimatum to prove their worthiness in the program.

Mike and Sulley are forced to work together in the Scare Games, where fraternities and sororities compete against one another to be top Scarers.  Since no fraternities will have them, they join Oozma Kappa (OK) the one group on campus where nobody’s perfect and everyone’s OK.

This is where Monsters University finds its heart.  The Oozma Kappa gang are delightful.  The fraternity lives at Squishy Squibbles’ (Peter Sohn) house with his Mom, Ms. Squibbles (Julia Sweeney).  Then there’s mature student Don (Joel Murray), two-headed Terri (Sean Hayes) and Terry (Dave Foley), and new age philosophy major, Art (Charlie Day).

The Oozma Kappa team form a bond of friendship where they learn to play off each other’s strengths and the results are hilarious and sweet.  Most of the movie’s action takes place during the Scare Games, with some truly funny scenes.  Along with the humour, there are some heartfelt moments where Oozma Kappa members are openly mocked and humiliated.

The character development of Mike and Sulley is nicely done in Monsters University.  The Oozma Kappa characters are also nicely developed.  There’s a sense of the kind of growth that happens when people, or monsters, head off on their own to discover themselves at university.  Often the journey is more important than the destination.

Mostly, Monsters University is a lot of fun.  Younger kids will find the colourful monsters appealing and those who grew up with Monsters, Inc. will enjoy the backstory of how Mike and Sulley became friends.  Much of the college humour will go over kids heads, but there’s enough slapstick and action to keep younger viewers engaged.  As always, Randy Newman’s score provides a perfect background to the story and action.

Monsters, Inc. has always been one of my favourite Pixar films and Monsters University compliments it nicely.  Stay through the end credits for a cute surprise.

The Blue Umbrella:  The Blue Umbrella is absolutely charming.  Opening with the sound of raindrops hitting the ground, morphing into music, this simple story with sophisticated animation and sound is delightful to watch.  When Blue umbrella notices Red umbrella and then loses sight of her in the sea of other umbrellas, Blue’s friends – the gutters, drain pipes, traffic lights and buildings – all do their part to bring the pair together.

The detail in the expressions on the metallic characters is an interesting contrast to the simple animation of the umbrellas.  Words aren’t needed as the detailed expressions and excellent musical score move the short story along.  Pixar excels at making wonderful animated short films, and The Blue Umbrella is no exception.

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Monsters University Review by Tony

*** (out of 4)

Monsters University is a prequel to Monsters, Inc. Ever since childhood Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) has wanted to be a scarer despite the fact he is small and not at all scary. Both he and Sullivan (John Goodman) are now freshmen at MU, Mike admitted on brains and Sullivan on his natural gifts and father’s reputation for scaring. At first they will have nothing to do with each other but circumstances force them onto the same team in the Scare Games. Their team from the marginal OK fraternity are not only underdogs but the butt of jokes from the other cool fraternities. How they perform in the games will have lifelong effects on them and those around them.

Though not as good as MI, Monsters University is a good backstory that introduces us to its own world of characters, some old and some new, including faculty (Helen Mirren and Alfred Molina) and frat members including mature student Don (Joel Murray), the two-headed Terry/Terri (Sean Hayes/Dave Foley), the philosopher Art (Charlie Day) and Squishy (Peter Sohn) all living in the house of Squishy’s mom (Julia Sweeney).

The production, cast, and script are all up to Pixar’s high standards, providing a good glimpse into campus life that we have all seen before (just not with monsters), and a lot of nice touches and gags that will appeal particularly to the college crowd, but not so much to young kids. The conflicts set up by the Games provide a good plot that maintains suspense right to the end, linking perfectly to the careers we know Mike and Sully found for themselves.

The Blue Umbrella:  Preceding the feature is The Blue Umbrella, directed by Saaschka Unseld with a nice musique concrète score from Jon Brion. Animated with an unprecedented level of photorealism, it tells the story of the budding romance between a blue and red umbrella amid a sea of black umbrellas on a rainy street. Otherwise inanimate street objects come to life to help bring them together. It is a nice addition to the growing library of Pixar shorts.

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Consensus: Directed by Dan Scanlon, Monsters University is another winner from Pixar, an incredibly entertaining prequel to the beloved 2001 film Monsters, Inc. that offers likeable characters with a lot of heart and a touching message.  ***3/4 (Out of 4)

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