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Monsters University (2013)

monsters university

If I saw Disney/Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. in theaters when it first came out back in 2001, I don’t remember it. To make up for it, I made sure to catch a showing when it was re-released in theaters in 3D back in December 2012…and it was fantastic. Oh, sure, I had seen it dozens of times at home on the DVD player, but nothing beats seeing a film on the big screen. The magic of the world that Pixar created is incredible; the colors are bright, the characters are lovable, and the story is both entertaining and valuable. That’s what I wanted to walk away with when seeing Monsters University on the big screen, and I’m happy to say that I did.

Monsters University opens with first-grader Michael Wazowski’s (voiced by Noah Johnston) class field trip to Monsters, Inc., where an encounter with scarer Frank McCay (John Krasinski) convinces Mike then and there that he wants to be a scarer too. He studies and works hard until he finally arrives at Monsters University, where he (now voiced by Billy Crystal) plans to study to be a top scarer. We are re-introduced to younger versions of familiar characters, such as the nerdy Randy Boggs (Steve Buscemi), Mike’s new roomate, and, of course, Jimmy Sullivan (John Goodman), who comes to class thinking that he can coast through on the reputation of his well-known scaring family. Mike and Sulley begin to compete with each other, both trying to prove to Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) that they have what it takes to be top scarers. Along the way, they make new friends, including Don Carlton (Joel Murray), Terri and Terry Perry (Sean Hayes and Dave Foley, respectively), Squishy Squibbles (Peter Sohn), and Art (Charlie Day).

Watching this film brings me right back to my childhood in the best way possible. The world is familiar, the characters are familiar, and the overall feel of the movie is like stepping into a pair of comfortable shoes. The movie manages to make plenty of references and homages to the original film without being a slave to it; it stands alone excellently, but it also adds to the world of Monsters, Inc. without forcing it. The voice actors are great, especially Crystal and Goodman, of course. Their comedic timing is perfect, and they bring laughs to the table just as skillfully as they did twelve years ago. The relationship between these two characters builds appropriately, with the twist of them being “enemies” rather than best buds adding a lot to their characterization. Helen Mirren plays a memorable Dean Hardscrabble, a record-breaking former scarer (perhaps the record that Mike and Sulley are trying to beat in the future?) who now uses her tactics to intimidate her students.

One of the aspects of the film that I thought was particularly done well was the idea of college life, something that, as a current college student, I can relate to. From the awkward interactions of the upperclassmen with the freshmen on move-in day, to the extreme measures taken to be prepared for an exam (i.e. excess coffee), to the social stigmas attached to being a member of certain on-campus organizations, to the pressures of adult expectations, everything feels like a reflection of life at a human university. Sure, certain aspects are exaggerated, sometimes even extremely so, but the atmosphere is close enough to be familiar.

Another part of college that is represented well is the need to take chances, something that Mike does quite a bit; he breaks rules, he stands up to authority, and he throws himself head first into a field of study where he has a natural disadvantage. But taking chances is important in life, no matter what the result, and Mike’s willingness to do that in this movie shows his strength as a character. Pixar also took a chance in making this film in the first place; it’s their first prequel, and it arrived after two less-than-stellar Pixar films (Cars 2 and Brave; my review). But, like Mike, their leap of faith seems to have paid off. It’s certainly not a perfect film (though the amazing commitment to lame jokes is admirable – the late-for-class slug in the film is painful), but Monsters University does a great job of both honoring its predecessor and bringing charm and heart back to Pixar films, something that has been sorely missed since Toy Story 3.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: G

P.S. – The Pixar short shown before the film, titled The Blue Umbrella, is maybe the first Pixar short that I just didn’t like. While I enjoyed the interactions and facial expressions of the random inanimate objects in the environment, the umbrellas as the main characters just felt strange. The story of the short itself is also familiar, but not in a good way…it’s just a lame rehash of the awesome Disney Animated Short Paperman, attached to last year’s Wreck-It Ralph (my review), which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Where Paperman is touching and sweet, The Blue Umbrella is stiff and bland. Thankfully, the movie following the short was great!

P.P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Randy Newman, here!


The Princess Bride (1987)

Every time I recommend The Princess Bride to a friend who hasn’t seen it before, especially to my guy friends, I’m given an incredulous look that seems to say, “You want me to watch what?” And with a title like The Princess Bride, who could blame them? But in every single circumstance, they’ve walked away loving it. It all boils down to one simple fact: it’s a great film, whether you’re a guy or girl. Perhaps the best way to sum up this film is the way Peter Falk’s character sums up the book to his grandson: it has “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles!” This film has something to enjoy for everyone who watches it.

Based on William Goldman’s 1973 book of the same title, The Princess Bride works as a sort of parody to every genre of film – romance, action, fantasy, etc. – but it does so in a way that never feels forced. The story is fun and the dialogue is often tongue-in-cheek. The comedy in the film wisely relies on the performances of each of the actors, who are incredibly well-cast. The two stand-out performances come from André the Giant as Fezzik, a large, intimidating man with a heart of gold and a passion for rhymes (“Does anybody want a peanut?”), and Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya, a revenge-seeking Spaniard who delivers arguably the most-quoted line of all time – “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father – prepare to die.”

Falling in line with the idea of it being a parody, this film also presents many of its characters as caricatures, with the most notable example being Wallace Shawn as Vizzini, the Sicilian. Wallace Shawn himself is a caricature of a person as it is, and this transfers perfectly to his character – wild facial expressions, insane laughter, ridiculous lines. Robin Wright as Princess Buttercup is a caricature of the classic head-over-heels woman-in-love character, displayed literally when she leaps and falls head-over-heels after Westley. Billy Crystal makes a hilarious cameo as Miracle Max, and Peter Cook’s appearance as the “Impressive Clergyman” is one of the highlights of the film. As I mentioned previously, the cast of this film is fantastic.

Perhaps the success of this film could be attributed to the author of the original book, William Goldman, who also wrote the screenplay. Much of the dialogue is lifted straight from the book, but it is really the actors bringing it to life that makes it so endearing. With the main lesson of the film being that there is a such thing as true love and that it’s worth fighting for, it’s got a moral worth watching for…plus, it’s just plain fun. With something for everyone, The Princess Bride remains a classic even 25 years after its release…and, may I say, the book is even better. Both are worth your time!

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG