The Film (3.5/5)
Pixar Animation has been the powerhouse of American Animation for the better part of the last 2 decades. Since the release of 1995's seminal animated film Toy Story, Pixar animation has been responsible for a large number of the most classic films in American animation. Their films have blended excellent stories, and characters with a real honest emotional core. On top of that their films have bridged the gap between films that were just for children, and those for adults. They also have with few exceptions stayed away from sequels.
The few sequels in their cannon have been Toy Story 2, which was just as good, if not better than the original film. There is also Toy Story 3, which is a decent sequel that just happens to cover much of the same ground as the prior entry in the series. On the other side of the spectrum there is also Cars 2, which is a sequel to one of the worst entries in their filmography, and is equally as bad if not worse than that film. Also, for a studio that previously swore off sequels to their popular entries it is sort of disheartening to see them put out films like Monsters University, and the upcoming Finding Dory (A Finding Nemo sequel).
In the original Monsters Inc. there is a line that mentions that Mike and Sulley met and became friends in the fourth grade. That line is thrown out in favor of the plot of Monsters University which finds the duo meeting for the first time in college. The film rather than centering on Sulley as Monsters Inc. did focuses on Mike, who from a young age just wanted to be a scarer on the scare floor on Monsters Inc. The film shows us an almost Goodfellas-esque prologue showing the viewer Mike growing up, waiting for the day he can grow up, go to Monsters University, and perfect his scaring skills. Once there, it becomes the children’s version of an 80’s campus comedy, only this time with monsters. Mike tries to acclimate to life, on campus, and makes enemies with Sulley who is a member of a rival fraternity from Mike.
The pair end up putting their rivalry aside when Sulley is kicked out of his fraternity, and forced to join Mike’s. Mike and Sulley then pair up as a team for the annual Scare Games, where if they combine their respective talents, they might have a chance at winning.
I’ve read a lot of reviews saying that Monsters University was an unnecessary prequel, and in many ways it is. Monsters Inc., was an excellent self-contained narrative in and of itself, and when it ended there was no need to go forward from there. The story between Mike and Sulley was established in that one line, that has now been throw away for the sake of telling this story, and yet Monsters University still works albeit on an entirely different level.
I’ve never been a fan of Dreamworks Animation, as a studio their output tends to skirt to close to surface comedy and farce, and there films never tend to stick with me after viewing. Sure, there is a handful of titles, where the studio has managed to create something masterful, but never quite on the level of Pixar’s greatest achievements. Unfortunately, some of the lesser Pixar titles from recent memory (I’m looking at you Cars/Cars 2) feel like the Pixar offspring of a Dreamworks film. Whereas a film like Monsters University has that Pixar charm, a bit of the depth, and emotional core that makes a Pixar film what it is, but it plays at a more surface enjoyment level like many Dreamworks titles.
I will say that if it weren’t for the existence of the original film this one might fare better. That being said the writing is quite sharp, especially in the films more comedic moments, and Pixar’s Animation while always stunning has evolved yet another step to create a truly fantastic visual experience.
Now, I must say if I seemed critically unkind to Monsters University I must say as a film I did enjoy its Revenge of the Nerds gone Monsters plot. Also, with a film like this one I have to sort of take myself out of the viewing experience, and put it through the eyes of my children, my daughter (who is 12) absolutely adored the film, and declared it much better than the first, and while I gather Pixar would love to have a universal audience for their films, I feel she is the demographic they are really aiming for, and as such they have succeeded.
Monsters University comes to Blu-ray with a predictably spectacular 1:78:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. This is an extremely colorful film, and the transfer reflects that with astounding colors that absolutely burst from the screen. The black levels present are extremely solid and deep, and detail, all the way down to Sulley’s hair is magnificent.
Pixar/Disney has presented Monsters University with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track that matches the video in terms of quality. The dialogue, of course, comes through nice and clearly, as do the films various FX, and score. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
Disney has put together a pretty epic package together for the blu-ray release of Monsters University. Disc 1 features a commentary with director Dan Scanlon, producer Kori Rae, and story supervisor Kelsey Mann. We also get Pixar’s latest short film Blue Umbrellas. Disc 2 kicks off with a 15 minute video journal called Campus Life; it is sort of a day in the life of some of the Pixar Bunch during the making of Monsters University. This is followed up by Story School which sees Scanlon discussing the process of developing the story, and working with the story department. We then get Monthropology a 6 minute short on the creation of the various monsters that populate Monsters University. We also get a 5 minute short documentary on the creation of hair for the furry monsters, most specifically Sulley. This is followed up by Welcome to Monsters University which details the creation of the campus and its architecture. The featurette Music Appreciation follows Scanlon as he works with the music department on the film; Scare Tactics follows the animation department as they try to create the best kid-friendly scares, while color and light gives an example of the look of the film at every step of the process from the rough cut to completion. We get an interesting featurette called Paths to Pixar which interviews some of the Monsters U creative team on how they ended up working at Pixar. The disc is rounded off with such other items as set "flythroughs", deleted scenes, various promos, and art galleries.
Monsters University is not a film Pixar needed to make, but it is a fun film, and one that kids are sure to enjoy. The A/V quality of the Blu-ray is outstanding, and the sheer volume of the extras makes this a release worth checking out HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.