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Monsters University (2013)

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Here it is, in a moment of truth, as the self-proclaimed greatest defender of Pixar and its films its time to talk about Pixar’s latest effort. Truth be told, since Cars 2 the studio with one of the greatest track records of all time began to back slide a little. However, with a line of promising sounding original stories coming down the pipe, Pixar seems to be getting their magic back with their first turn in the current trend of sequel/prequels: Monsters University.

As the title, and the ads have suggested, this follows the tale of how Mike and Sully met, were educated in the ways of scaring, and became the good friends they are seen to be. This time around, Mike is more of the central focus for the story as we follow his nearly life long ambition to become a great scarer. Upon enrolling at MU the plot starts to take its shape and gain that usual Pixar stride. Some clever nods and references to college life are sprinkled throughout while the film plays as a smart blend of Revenge of the Nerds and Animal House. Most of the jokes are lighthearted but very effective and the highs and lows the movie takes, while not venturing and deep as it’s predecessor, fit right in with Pixar’s standard. What works best in the film is the tale of how Mike and Sully become friends. The dramatic moments they share and that ultimately make up the building blocks of their relationship are very close to, or perhaps even surpasses, the infamous Yeti’s Cave sequence from the first Monsters picture.

The cast roster this time around is a little bit larger than the previous film. Returning members include Steve Buscemi as Randall Boggs and though he is only back for a brief stint he brings a surprising freshness to the role. And of course, making a glorious return are Billy Crystal and John Goodman as Mike and Sully, respectively; their performances are just as strong as in Monsters Inc. Crystal and Goodman have opportunities to explore what defined their later characters in this installment and turn in noticeably deeper performances. With those two leading the charge they easily, and quite deservedly, carry the weight of the film and handle it well. Of the new voices is Helen Mirren as Dean Hardscrabble who plays her character with an almost unrecognizable intensity with a sinister undercurrent to it. Dave Foley makes a Pixar comeback as Terry, half of a two-headed monster that he shares with Sean Hayes; and together the pair make a pretty funny duo. The most standout character of the new bunch is Art as voiced by Charlie Day. His brand of humor and it’s timing fit brilliantly within the formula of the college driven piece bring it a tremendous amount levity. But, once again, as the story focuses of Mike and Sully, the performances of Billy Crystal and John Goodman really make the movie work in spades.

With over 25 years of work under their collective belts, the artists at Pixar have taken their craft to a level of proficiency that is, in my opinion, unapproachable by any rivaling studio and continues to define and drive the genre forward. The modeling and rendering in this flick are now at a level where the story takes the majority of the focus for the flick. Pixar is now able to convey, through computer imagery, moments that seem very real, are relatable, and make it extremely easy to forget that nothing seen in a single frame of the flick actually exists. Impressively, Pixar is able to present their animation in a way that possesses a sense of photo-realism but stays away from the dreaded Uncanny Valley. Although there are a few small discrepancies with the origins of Mike and Sully’s relationship (it’s mentioned in passing that they’ve known each other since at least the 4th grade and they don’t seem to know the Yeti in Monsters Inc…), the story presented here is a wonderful tale of a relationship that develops from a rivalry into a solid friendship that finally allows Pixar to present a story that harkens back to the strong and heartfelt story telling that gave Pixar their triumphant start.

  • “The Force is strong with this one” with Monsters University

-DStarB

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