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Monsters University (2013) – Randy Newman

monsters university

Randy Newman is back with Pixar for the first time since composing the score for Toy Story 3 back in 2010, which is great since he composed the score for the original film, Monsters, Inc. His score for that film had a jazz-oriented main theme that worked really well for it, and I was hoping for more of the same for Monsters University. While we definitely get “more of the same” here, it’s unfortunately not the “same” that I was hoping for.

The first half of this album or so fails to impress me at all. It sounds like nothing more than another Randy Newman score, which, unfortunately, isn’t much of a compliment. Don’t get me wrong – the sound of Randy Newman’s music very much IS Pixar, but a little variation would have been nice, or at least some more extensive reference to the original film’s score. We certainly do get some reference to the original score in the track “Field Trip,” where we hear the theme from “Enter the Heroes” as well as the chase theme from the first film, which can be heard in the Monsters, Inc. track “Mike’s In Trouble.” Anyways, I digress. I actually do have some good things to say about this score.

Newman did a good job of composing the Monsters University alma mater, which, in its slower instrumental form (as heard in “Goodbyes”), is slightly reminiscent of this theme from John Williams’ score to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – in a good way! Both themes have the same warmth to them. Also, despite my complaints regarding the lack of inclusion of themes from the original score, the quotes that were used were used well, bringing a smile to my face as soon as I heard them. Newman also utilizes what sounds like a marching band (specifically a drum line) to really bring the fact that this takes place at a college into focus, and it works wonderfully. As mentioned before, Newman’s music IS Pixar, or, at least, classic Pixar, so watching the film with his score playing in the background was like stepping back into my childhood. Also of note is the track titled “Roar,” credited to Axwell & Sebastian Ingrosso, which is a fun dance tune.

Randy Newman isn’t exactly the most “original” composer out there, as evidenced by the fact that much of this music sounds like his previous work; I can hear bits of Toy Story in “First Day at MU” and bits of A Bug’s Life (my review) in “Rise and Shine,” with several other similar instances popping up here and there. However, all of that is completely, perfectly okay compared to the opening of “Did You Do This?,” when he completely and blatantly rips off his own theme to A Bug’s Life. Make sure you click on both of those links because I want you to be as angry about it as I was when I first heard it…I probably shouldn’t have been driving at the time. Not even Hans Zimmer has been that blatant about borrowing from his previous work! …it frustrates me.

Maybe I’m being overly critical for something like this. Like I said, Newman’s score does a great job of bringing familiarity to the world presented in Monsters University, and despite that one HUGE problem and the score’s general tendency to be pretty forgettable, it’s a decent score overall. I have my qualms with it, but it serves its purpose just fine for the average listener and in the context of the film.

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

1. “Main Title” 0:52
2. “Young Michael” 3:58
3. “First Day at MU” 4:32
4. “Dean Hardscrabble” 3:19
5. “Sulley” 0:48
6. “Scare Pig” 2:00
7. “Wasted Potential” 1:16
8. “Oozma Kappa” 3:16
9. “Stinging Glow Urchin” 2:34
10. “Field Trip” 3:57
11. “Rise and Shine” 3:00
12. “The Library” 3:44
13. “Roar” (performed by Axwell & Sebastian Ingrosso) 2:55
14. “The Scare Games” 6:00
15. “Did You Do This?” 2:00
16. “Human World” 2:07
17. “The Big Scare” 3:02
18. “Goodbyes” 3:11
19. “Mike and Sulley” 1:12
20. “Monsters University” 1:34

Total Length: app. 56 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of this film here!

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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!