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Wednesday, July 3, 2013 07:15 pm

Reunion at the core of Monsters University

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With Cars 2 and Brave, Pixar Studios showed that they too could deliver mediocre animated films much like their competition. The problem with those two films was that they lacked the heart and pathos that made nearly all of the company’s previous efforts so distinctive. Some have claimed that increased input by the corporate bigwigs at Disney, who have bought the studio, has led to a dilution of the Pixar brand and what with the influx of sequels to their properties. It’s hard not to think that there might not be a bit of credence to this notion.

Which brings us to their latest effort Monsters University, a prequel to the 2001 hit Monsters Inc. Having been made and released 12 years after the original seems to suggest that there was little in the way of urgency to tell the film’s story and to be honest, this is far from a groundbreaking effort. However, after an awkward first 20 minutes, the movie hits its stride and ends up being a wildly entertaining effort that contains a solid, if less than poignant message, about self-confidence and friendship.

We first meet Mike Wazowski (voice by Billy Crystal), whose sense of optimism is as big as his one huge eye, as a tyke on a field trip to Monsters Inc. where he finds his calling. After illegally trespassing on a journey into the human world to watch a scarer in action, he realizes what he wants to do with his life. Problem in, he’s just not that frightening, something he hopes to rectify years later by attending Monsters University. He’s done his homework, knows all about various scare theories and techniques, but he simply doesn’t have to presence to pull off a toe-curling scare. However, James Sullivan (John Goodman) has this in spades. Coming from a long line of scarers, he can make a 5-year -old’s hair turn white in their sleep. Problem is, he just doesn’t take his studies seriously enough, which puts his position at the university in jeopardy.

Circumstances ensue that throw the two future buddies into a fraternity of misfits which forces them to put their differences aside as well as exploit their and their frat brothers’ positive qualities. They’re forced to compete in a series of challenges in order to remain enrolled. The movie builds a full head of steam during these scenes. The contests are inspired and funny. A gauntlet in which they must avoid being stung by poisonous puffer fish that are being hurled at them doesn’t go too well to hilarious effect while a run-in with the mother of all evil librarians leaves them battered and bruised but more confident for having survived. These scenes prove that Pixar hasn’t lost the sense of fun and invention that was a major ingredient in their past films.

Also present is a moralistic theme that, while not tear-inducing like those present in Finding Nemo or Up, is at least firmly grounded in the story. That Mike and Sully realize that their special qualities are not a reason for scorn but celebration may not be the most imaginative lesson to deliver, but it is at least delivered in a sincere manner. In the end, Monsters University may not be groundbreaking animation but at the very least it’s a nice, entertaining visit with old friends who deserve to be looked in upon from time to time.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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