Movie Review: Monsters University (w/The Blue Umbrella)
There’s something I might as well get off my chest right now. Something I have never really confessed to anyone.
Though I am a PIXAR fanatic, I’ve never been a big fan of Monsters Inc.
While the film had some emotional moments, and also seemed to serve as a tribute to Jim Henson’s Muppet ‘monsters’ (heck, they even got former Muppeteer Frank Oz to voice a character!), Pete Doctor’s directorial debut just never seemed to hold together as a cohesive whole. While I too loved the characterization of little Boo, and the amazing technical leaps in making Sully’s fur behave in a believable way, the narrative in some of the slower moments, and even some of the plot revelations, didn’t seem to work.
Following the emotional climax to their Toy Story films, the gold standard in feature animation has seemed to tarnish a bit, with many not taking well to the company’s last two efforts. Internet conspiracy theorists are convinced that the Emeryville campus has been invaded by members of the Walt Disney Company, forcing them to churn out Cars 2 to push oodles of merchandise, and messing up Brave’s storyline (I won’t get into the whole ‘gussied up’ Merida controversy. You can find all you need to know by Googling it).
Monsters University is a new frontier for PIXAR, being the company’s first film prequel. It is also one of those films that fits into the category of, “Films we didn’t know we needed.” Though unlike the eye-rolling from many regarding Cars 2, Monsters University has been more easily embraced by people.
This was one film that I went into with as little knowledge or previewing as possible…and I think that was a good thing.
Taking us way back, we find Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) eager to prove his mettle at Monsters University, one of the premier stomping grounds to become a top-notch scarer. We also meet such familiar characters as Randall ‘Randy’ Boggs (Steve Buscemi), and of course, Sully (John Goodman). Though unlike the big guy we know and love in Monsters Inc, Sully isn’t quite there yet. While Mike is ready to hit the books the instant he steps onto campus, Sully is moreso content to coast through his studies.
This definitely helps throw a wrench in the audiences’ thinking, and creates the burning question: just how did these two end up seeing eye-to-eyes? Well, it proves to be a rather entertaining journey.
Of course, given that it’s a film that takes place on a University campus (in a G-rated film), the filmmakers take advantage of trying to cram in as many college jokes as possible. Frat Boys, Sorority Sisters, super-serious Deans – almost everything is here. I’m sure some will even draw parallels to National Lampoon’s Animal House. It could be our famliarty with collegiate interpretations, that may bring some in the audience to figure out where some of the plotpoints will go (I guessed on a few of them, and found myself right).
For me, one of the biggest joys I had watching the film, was that it made me like Mike Wazowski. Billy Crystal’s take on him in Monsters Inc often grated on me regarding Mike’s personality, but here, the filmmakers have expanded my insight into Mike’s character. Because of this, I can kind of see why he acts the way he does later on in Monsters Inc.
Funny enough, this acceptance reminded me of how I didn’t really care for ‘deluded’ Buzz in the first Toy Story, but liked him even more in Toy Story 2, when we saw how Woody had influenced him in the time since the first film, helping cement the friendship between the two.
One of the best compliments I can give to University, is it feels like a throwback to the first 10 years of PIXAR’s films. It’s a film that doesn’t quite reach for the heights of Ratatouille or Wall-E, but is a film that feels right at home amid the likes of A Bug’s Life, and even the first Monsters Inc. There were no scenes that ripped my heart out, but I found myself laughing: something even a good film from PIXAR can get me to do.
In conclusion, it’s hard for me to even consider a prequel made 12 years after a film to be the superior product. The best I can say is, Monsters University comes incredibly close, and I think is one of the few films I’ve seen this summer, that didn’t make me question the $12 ticket price (that reminds me: after seeing it in 2D, I can honestly say that I didn’t see any scenes that I felt would be ‘enhanced’ by a 3D showing).
As is tradition, an animated short is attached to PIXAR’s features, and this one, is The Blue Umbrella. By now, it should come as no surprise that PIXAR loves to make characters out of inanimate objects (such as toys and cars). But in this case, some of the short plays around with the concept of everyday objects, that seem to have faces on them. Not real faces, mind you, but a combination of screws, metal fixtures, windows, and more.
Unlike the faces made up of everyday items, the umbrellas in our little story have eyes and a mouth, and are differentiated by the colors of blue and red. PIXAR layout artist Saschka Unseld’s first directorial project with the studio is definitely a cute little short about romance, but it feels like in this case, the visuals may overwhelm the senses. I was reminded of Disney’s short Paperman afterwards, but felt that that short just seemed to push my buttons in the right way. Blue Umbrella is a little more abstract, feeling a little more like an incredible demo reel.
I believe that those who see the short, will most likely be amazed by the visuals. If Wall-E showed what semi-realism could be, then The Blue Umbrella shows the next few leaps in evolution. As a rain storm starts up, I was just in awe of the work the artists did to get down how a droplet of water reacts upon hitting wood, or a metal post box.
Much as Cars owes its existence to the short Suzie the Little Blue Coupe, Umbrella seems to do the same. One can see some similarities to the Disney shorts Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet, and to a lesser extent, The Little House (a short based on the story by Virginia Lee Burton).
Monsters University: B | The Blue Umbrella: B-