Monday, June 24, 2013

Film Review: Monsters University

PIXAR consistently brings quality films to the screen.  And while all of their movies cannot be great (Cars, Brave) I have not known them to make a bad film.  So it was with decently sized expectations that I sat down to their latest, Monsters University, and I was not disappointed.

This film is a prequel to the fantastic Monsters Inc.  Whereas that movie held its primary focus on Sully (John Goodman), the gentle, furry giant, the current film concentrates on his diminutive, cycloptic best friend Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal).  Set years before the original, Mike comes to Monsters University with one goal in mind: become a scarer.  In the Monsters world, scarers enter the human world to scare children, whose screams are collected as this world's only source of energy.  After visiting Monsters Inc. while young, Mike has dreamed of nothing else.  The problem is that while he is big on knowledge, he is short on natural talent.  This is especially irksome as he meets Sully, who is so full of inherent scariness that he doesn't even try.

Through a series of events that I will not spoil here, Mike and Sully must work together along with Oozma Kappa, the least popular fraternity on campus.  This motley crew must compete in a series of campus games.  As you can expect, hilarity ensues.  We see this especially in the characters like the lovable losers of Oozma Kappa or the popular kids at Roar Omega Roar (led by the fantastically voiced Nathan Fillion).

As can be expected, the movie is visually arresting.  You can feel the care that they took to make this world exceedingly odd and yet beautiful.  That is no easy thing.  Should you feel too ill at ease in the Monsters world, it would make watching the movie difficult at best.  This also goes into the design of the monsters, keeping them closer to something you would see on Sesame Street than Elm Street.  Some very, very young children might be scared (as one young child in the theater was), but it should not be a large concern.  The PIXAR team has fun with the variety of games and monsters at play throughout.

It was also a great deal of fun watching the budding friendship between Sully and Mike.  Their enmity in the beginning feels very real, to the point where it becomes difficult to see who these two could connect at all.  And that is the beauty of the story in that it creates this giant obstacle, but it shows how the characters overcome it in a believable way.

The jokes are fast and furious and even when they don't elicit laughter, they amuse with delight.  I smiled the entire time I watched the film, with exception of the emotionally stirring parts.  And here is a point that surprised me.

PIXAR deals with Mike's problem in a way I did not expect.  His problem is very real and is not easily dismissed.  And it is a problem that so many of us have and most children can grasp.  What happens when your enthusiasm exceeds your abilities?  Not all of us win American Idol.  Hard work is essential to success, but sometimes it is not enough.  That is a harsh reality that this movie does not side-step at all but tackles it head on.  And it handles it in a way that any child can understand and appreciate.

Heck, even I could understand it.

If you are looking for a fun time at the movies for the whole family, check out Monsters University

4 out of 5 stars

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