Monsters University has started it’s run of advance screenings and I was lucky enough to be in one of the cities hosting a college student screening of Pixar’s 2013 feature film. MU is the first prequel for Pixar, putting it under a different heading than other Pixar films, but while you think you may know where our favorite scaring duo ends up, the folks up in Emeryville have created a humor-filled and emotion-packed story of how Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan came to be the top scarers at Monsters, Inc.
Toss on your favorite Randy Newman soundtrack, grab a pack of MU fruit snacks, and settle in for Pixar News’ review of Monsters University.
Setting the Stage
The theater was first greeted by a video of Director Dan Scanlon, who set the scene by giving a quick background on the film and asking that the audience refrain from giving spoilers. Don’t worry, this review is spoiler free.
We are able to travel to a time where Mike and Sulley are just getting acquainted. And where better to make friends than at university? MU shows the scaring duo’s rocky road to friendship, with hilarious college hijinks mixed in between. Its underlying message is a powerful one which will resonate with all ages. Numerous twists and turns in the story keep you intrigued, with some very raw and emotional scenes in the third act. I went into the theater thinking that it would be a straightforward story, Mike hates Sulley, Sulley hates Mike, they learn to work together and they become best friends; but the amazing story line packs in so much more than that.
Think about the Pixar humor that we have come to know and magnify it one hundred times. From Animal House references to the college pranks, MU comes out kicking with joke after joke. The college setting makes for some very fun humor (the stereotypical orientation leader, club signups, etc) and the meticulously designed world is full of subtle and broad wit. The entire theater was laughing so hard at a few of the jokes that I even missed some of the succeeding dialogue!
Speaking of humor, many of the characters provided comic relief. As the trailers have shown, Art is quite the character, you can rest assured that his humor goes far beyond the scenes in the trailer and his “I can’t go back to jail!” line. The conjoined Terri and Terry also have some quite hilarious moments and a couple of heartfelt ones as well. I personally enjoyed Squishy and Don Carlton the most. Don is one of the few minor characters with a touching story arc running the length of the film. Squishy along with his mom are just plain hilarious, both individually as well as within the mother-son dynamic.
There was just enough of young Randall to make him a part of the story, while playing him down enough so as to not make this feel like Monsters, Inc. The casting of Hellen Mirren as the rather scary Dean Hardscrabble was perfect. The character design of Dean Hardscrabble is truly amazing and the stills really don’t do her justice, her centipede-like body in motion is truly astounding while at the same time making you cringe.
Randy Newman returned to score Monsters University and he came up with a very fun theme that is used throughout the film (which can be found in the most recent trailer). Newman shifted from the polished jazz sound of Monsters, Inc. in favor of a pepband/brassband hybrid. Drumline cadences and grooves also made up a significant part of the soundtrack.
When Scanlon introduced the film, he noted that it was 99% complete with some soundtrack tweaks till needing to be made. I noticed 3 tracks which had themes from the Monsters, Inc. soundtrack, however I am not sure if this is the 1% that still needed work or if they were playing homage to Monsters, Inc.
All in all it is a very grooving soundtrack, and though it doesn’t compare to past Pixar greats such as Ratatouille or Up, it can definitely stand on its own.
Animation and Scenery
The settings were absolutely stunning. I was absolutely engrossed in the beautifully crafted campus; the meticulous attention to detail is superb. The lighting added so much to each scene, from the bright and radiant first day of school to the frat house parties. I am by no means an expert on animation, but just in comparing MU to Monsters, Inc. it is very easy to see that the quality and fluidity of animation has significantly improved. The fact that the animation didn’t stick out to me is also a good sign.
The emotion in MU is very relatable and you are able to build a whole new set of emotional connections with Mike and Sulley. Though you may think you already have the story figured out, Monsters University is sure to surprise you with its many twists and turns. Echoing the intricate plot line of Toy Story 3, there are several point in MU where it seems like there is no where to go, but then another door opens up. The origin story of Mike and Sulley is quite incredible, and to quote Slashfilm, “You may know where Mike and Sully end up, but you’d never be able to guess the course of actions that brings them there.”