Tag Archives: Monsters Inc.

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!


Cars (2006) – Randy Newman

The score to the Disney/Pixar film Cars was composed by Randy Newman, who was also responsible for the scores to all three Toy Story films, A Bug’s Life, andMonsters, Inc. However, like most of Pixar’s film soundtracks, there are a few songs in the track list that are lyrical.

In the case of Cars, nearly half (9 out of 20) of the tracks are vocal songs, and 4 of those were written specifically for the film. I’ll briefly walk through each of these 9 tracks before getting to the actual “score”.

The first track on the album is “Real Gone” by Sheryl Crow. This is one of the songs that was written for the film. This song, aside from just being lots of fun and making references to cars, has lyrics that fit Lightning McQueen’s character at the start of the film: “you got your blinders on”, referencing the things placed to side of a horse’s eyes so that it can only see straight ahead, refers to McQueen’s love for nothing but himself and his career.

Next is Chuck Berry’s “Route 66”, which is on the album for obvious reasons that I hope I don’t have to explain. John Mayer has another decent version of this song available on the album.

Rascall Flatts’ version of Tom Cochrane’s 1991 hit “Life is a Highway” is also included on the album for obvious reasons, but it also has a set of lyrics that fit in well with the themes of the film, found in the bridge:

“There was a distance between you and I

A misunderstanding once

But now, we look it in the eye.”

This chunk of lyric could fit either Lightning’s relationship with Sally, which grows from a mutual annoyance to a blossoming romance, or with Doc, which starts with a lack of communication/understanding but becomes a strong teacher/student or father/son relationship.

Brad Paisley wrote two songs for Cars the first of which is titled “Behind the Clouds”. The lyrics in this song talk about the silver lining that can be found in situations that appear bleak at first, i.e. Lightning getting lost and trapped in a near-ghost town in the middle of nowhere. Which turns out to be a blessing! Yay for songs that fit the story!

The third song on the soundtrack that was written for the film is titled “Our Town”, composed by Randy Newman and performed by James Taylor. This song, a Grammy winner and Academy Award nominee, reveals one of the morals of the film: what you have is only what you make of it, and no one can take it away from you. An awesome message, and one of the reasons why I love Pixar (even if Cars is far from my favorite).

“Sh-Boom”, a 1954 song by The Chords, is played during the scene where McQueen and the citizens of Radiator Springs restore the city to look the way it did in its heyday as a surprise for Sally. I wasn’t alive back then, but this song just seems to define the 50s for me. It’s relaxed and fun and perfect for this scene in the film.

The final lyrical song written for the film is another by Brad Paisley, this one titled “Find Yourself”. (On a quick side note, I now have Cars to thank for the presence of country music on my iPhone! Who’da thought it’d ever happen?!) This song, like “Our Town” is particularly poignant because it talks about how, though we may lose our ways in life sometimes, it’s at those times that we’re lost that we often discover who we really are and what we really want, as Lightning does in the film.

The final lyrical song included on the soundtrack album is Hank Williams’ “My Heart Would Know”, which, as far as I can tell, has no lyrical connection to the story, merely serving the purpose of establishing the setting/context/feel of the film.

And now we (finally) move on the the actual film score by Randy Newman. Unfortunately, Randy’s film scores are often like Hans Zimmer’s and Danny Elfman’s in the sense they sound the same a lot of the time (certainly not Randy’s themes, just his background music usually), and the first two instrumental tracks, “Opening Race” and “McQueen’s Lost”, do nothing to prove that theory wrong. “Opening Race” reminds me of some bits from Toy Story, while “McQueen’s Lost” has an entire 7-second section of music that almost sounds exactly like a theme from A Bug’s Life. (go to YouTube and compare :37-:44 of “McQueen’s Lost” to :34-:40 of “The Bird Flies”)

Luckily, Randy completely switches gears in the next track, “Bessie”, which suddenly turns into what could easily be mistaken for the intro to a country/western song. Thank you, Randy! Although there were hints of Toy Story again in the next track, “Dirt is Different”, and in a couple of other tracks later on, Randy sticks to a Western-feel, occasionally bluegrass-y, that is for the most part refreshing and different coming from him.

I don’t want to go into too much (more) detail, so I’ll sum it up.

Overall, while a bit familiar, the country feel to Cars’ instrumental score, in addition to the excellent vocal tracks that accompany it, makes this a better soundtrack than I initially expected. My favorite track is “McQueen and Sally”.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

1. “Real Gone” Sheryl Crow 3:22

2. “Route 66” Chuck Berry 2:52

3. “Life Is a Highway” Rascal Flatts 4:37

4. “Behind the Clouds” Brad Paisley 4:09

5. “Our Town” James Taylor 4:07

6. “Sh-Boom” The Chords 2:26

7. “Route 66” John Mayer 3:25

8. “Find Yourself” Brad Paisley 4:11

9. “Opening Race” 2:05

10. “McQueen’s Lost” 2:29

11. “My Heart Would Know” Hank Williams 2:27

12. “Bessie” 0:59

13. “Dirt Is Different” 1:28

14. “New Road” 1:17

15. “Tractor Tipping” 1:22

16. “McQueen & Sally” 2:00

17. “Goodbye” 2:42

18. “Pre-Race Pageantry” 1:31

19. “The Piston Cup” 1:52

20. “The Big Race” 3:07

Total Length: app. 53 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad