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Monsters University (2013)

| June 22, 2013 | 0 Comments

At last!  The summer of 2013 finally has a solid winner!  In a season overrun with dry sauce about zombies, hangovers, apocalypses, and men made of iron and steel, it is a godsend that Pixar has come into the competition with their game face on.  You might not think that a prequel to the 2001 hit “Monsters Inc.” could come off as much more than a passable diversion, but “Monsters University” is an exciting movie brimming with life and color and creativity that makes it more than just a prequel, it’s a funny, moving, exciting animated adventure that breathes with an energy all its own. It’s also the funniest movie of the year by far.

A lot of the credit goes to the writers, who trump the recent trend of movie prequels by refusing to create just a beacon to the events that will follow.  Yes, we get a peek at the colligate days of monsters Mike Wazowski and James P. “Sully” Sullivan as they enroll in the “Scaring Program” but the writers have presented both Mike and Sully in a way that makes us feel as if we truly are meeting them for the first time.  The original gave us a pair of monsters who had been friends for years but here, meeting at college, they don’t much like each other.  The dynamic of their relationship is deeper here because they are getting to know one another, and we see a learning curve in their mistakes and in their moral choices.

The movie opens with the elementary school days of cute ‘lil Mike on a field trip to Monster Inc. – his future employer – where a spark of inspiration makes him think that the art of scaring is his destiny.  Mike devotes his entire educational pursuit to the art and science of scaring.  He’s a bookworm who knows the basics of scaring but is blinded to the fact that he lacks the organic tools to put it into practice.  In class, on the first day, he meets blue-furred Sully Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman), a legacy who is a natural at scaring without ever picking up a book.  That personality clash leaves them at odds with one another.

What comes of this prequel adventure is an energetic and often very funny reworking of the old college comedy familiar to anyone who has seen “Animal House”, “Real Genius”, “Revenge of the Nerds”, “Back to School” or even The Marx Brothers “Horsefeathers.”  In order to prove themselves, Mike and Sully get involved in The Scare Games, a sort-of Olympiad for scaring.  The catch: They have to be in a fraternity.  So, true to all college comedies, they join up with the worst house on campus, Ooze Kappa, a gaggle of dorks so socially awkward that they serve tea instead of beer. Eventually, someday they hope to make enough friends to have a real party.

Also true to the genre, the boys find themselves butting heads with the school’s crusty, bitter old dean, in this case Dean Hardscrabble (voiced with a slithery hiss by Helen Mirren), a dragon-winged centipede who assures both Mike and Sully that they will never, ever graduate from scaring school no matter how hard they try.  Dean Hardscrabble is one of the more effective movie villains in quite some time.  With her stiff neck, haughty manners and bug-like movements, she’s a great-looking creation.  She has an entrance in the film that is kind of spectacular.

Design is key here.  The animators have put all of their creativity to work, getting every character details just right.  Every monster in this movie moves and slithers and breathes with a kind of vibrant energy.  That gives the movie its lifeblood.  Sully is younger, leaner and more physically awkward this time.  When he stands still, his shoulders slump like a goofy teenager.  When he sits in class, he draps his arm and leg confidently over the desk next to him.  Mike strolls into college with a big grin and an air of confidence, but as the movie progresses and his spirits dim, his movements become slower and less surefire.  There’s something in the pure details here that is inspiring.

The writers have even put that kind of enthusiasm into the story, which has more weight than the previous film because the leads are just getting to know each other. That’s something that pushes Pixar ahead of the pack when it comes to animated features. Their characters seem to exist with more life and personality. They aren’t there to be cute or to sell toys. Like Woody and Buzz, Mike and Sully are three-dimensional characters whose personalities are so full and so much fun that their adventures are beside the point. By the end of “Monsters University,” you find that you’d follow them anywhere.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2013) View IMDB Filed in: Animated, Comedy, Kids, Recent