Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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Monsters University

Film #292


A look at the relationship between Mike and Sulley during their days at Monsters University – when they weren’t necessarily the best of friends.

Year 1, Day 298

BEFORE: Today’s a big day for movie marathon: advanced screening of Monsters University. The much awaited (for me at least) prequel to the fantastic Monsters Inc. has been making the rounds in other screenings for college students (how apt) and hits Boston today. Besides another The Incredibles film, the other Pixar franchise I’ve been waiting for more from is Monsters Inc. and from everything I’ve seen and heard so far, it seems like a return to form for the studio. Accompanied by a whole host of friends, I’m very much looking forward to some quality entertainment. Don’t disappoint me Dan Scanlon.

AFTER: Welcome to Monsters University, the place the film gets its name from and where laughs are a plenty. But it’s not just laughs the film does well, it also nails the characters and most importantly, the environment. This truly is another Monsters movie and it’s great to see Mike (Bill Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) back again. However, it’s less than an unconditional praise for the film and it’s accompanied by some interesting firsts for the movie marathon.

Let me start off by saying that Monsters University is the first incomplete advanced screening I’ve seen. Most of the time these advanced screenings are the fully finished film that will be in theaters when officially released, no changes made. Before the film started, the director Dan Scanlon had a few brief words to say. His remarks were quite funny (I promise, no spoilers) but he did say that the film wasn’t 100% complete yet (some minor tweaks left for music and sound) and while I don’t think it affects my overall opinion (as the story and structure is surely set in place) there is a chance things may improve by the time of release. [Side note: for those wondering, the new Pixar short, the photorealistic ”The Blue Umbrella” was not in front of this advanced screening so alas, it won’t be part of this review.]

Now that I’ve covered that, lets talk the film. As I mentioned in my intro, there are two areas where Monsters University not just succeeds, but passes summa cum laude, and those are the environment and characters (more specifically the character development). Of special note is the environment element. I’ve talked many times during this marathon about a film’s style, tone, or atmosphere but I don’t think environment is something that’s ever come up. One of the defining elements of Monsters University is this environment: education, specifically a college campus and its associated locales (think: frat houses). Because the filmmakers do a, what I’ll call perfect, job of nailing this down it gives the film so much credibility and therefore believability. Yes, it’s a world full of monsters, but it feels like a college campus. Looks like one, sounds like one, and acts like one. Anyone who is currently in college will laugh because everything will strike true, for anyone who is out of college it will most likely trigger memories (fond ones or not), and for those not yet in college, it gives you a taste of what to expect.

Of equal importance (for any film really, and the cause for many subpar films) is the characters and the changes, or development, they go through. No surprise here, but Mike and Sully were just as great as they were in Monsters Inc. even being ten to twenty years younger or so. The best thing about Monsters University is how it expands upon these old characters (many familiar faces strewn throughout), introduces new ones, and shows the changes they go through. One example is Mike Wazowski. You see him transform from this hopeful, spirited, and caring kid into the hard-working, determined, and light-hearted adult version, the one you see in Monsters Inc. But it never feels forced or crammed into the film, for Mike or any other character. You feel as if you follow them throughout childhood, adolescence, and early adult years despite it being just a two hour film. It brings these characters to life even more than I thought would be possible - there’s the same great elements from the original with some great new backstories and traits added on.

My problems with the film, which are few but still present, lie in the story and the structure of the film. As I said earlier, I will abide by Scanlon’s request for no spoilers (which I always do for any film) but I’ll air even more on the side of caution by not mentioning any specifics. Interestingly, I don’t think specifics are necessary to fully explain what my issue is. Put simply, I felt it was too forceful; that they bit off more than they could chew. The story arc and material they cover in the film is all fantastic (see the above paragraphs) but they way it was organized and the pacing just struck me as jarring. It was as if I was watching a bunch of shorts films, almost like a bunch of webisodes - all connected, but very much individual stories. Going through, I can count at least four, possibly five, separate chunks of the film, and that’s what it felt like - chunks. A film should flow together smoothly and seamlessly; one continuous story. Most interesting, for me at least, is that I could only put my finger on what I didn’t fully like at the end of the film. Watching it, I was a bit taken aback by the opening “chunk” but then for the whole middle I completely forgot about that dislike. I was fully engaged, going along with everything. Then at the end I had that same feeling of slight annoyance and I could identify this “chunking” problem.

My negative points typically come at the end of my review but I think that skews the lasting impression. If the negative points are the last you read, you’ll think the entire film is bad. While this “chunking” problem is an annoying element to Monsters University it is by no means a deal-breaker or even that serious. The thing to take away is that Pixar created a fantastic prequel to Monsters Inc. It brought a wealth of originality in terms of the college environment they created and the amazing character development throughout. Monsters University lives up to all my excitement and is very much worth watching. While it may not be perfect it still is undeniably laugh-out-loud funny and extremely entertaining.

Monsters University opens in theaters on June 21, 2013.

RATING: 4 out of 5