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Monsters University (2013)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/29/2013

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/23/2013

Designing the Campus - Monsters University Featurette on Disney Video

Ah, the prequel. Is there a more slippery endeavor in all of filmmaking? A sequel is easy to grasp -- you simply take the story, characters, or situation from the first movie and either continue the original story or write a new, yet similar one. But, with a prequel, you're moving back in time to show what the characters were doing before the original film and this can easily backfire. For every The Godfather, Part II we get several Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or Star Wars: Episodes I-III. Pixar is a company which is known for its originality (for some reason) and, other than the Toy Story films, aren't known for sequels. So, when they decided to brings us another chapter in the Monsters Inc. saga, they decided to go back in time and back to school with Monsters University. Can this avoid the curse of the bad prequel?

As Monsters University opens, we witness a very young Mike Wazowski (voiced by Noah Johnston) visiting Monsters Inc. on a school field trip. He gets to see the scarers at work up close and he decides that's what he wants to do with his life. The story then jumps ahead, as Mike (now voiced by Billy Crystal) arrives at Monsters University, where he plans to major in Scaring. He meets his roommate, Randall (voiced by Steve Buscemi), and he's off to class. As Mike has already studied all that there is to know about scaring, he's insulted to see the obviously dis-interested James P. Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) get recognized in class. This leads to a rivalry between the two, which eventually sees them being kicked out of the program by Dean Hardscrabble (voiced by Helen Mirren). Sully decides that his career is over before it even began, but the ever-determined Mike strikes a deal with Hardscrabble -- if he can win the annual "Scare Games", she'll let him back in. Mike and Sully must now attempt to work with a team of misfits amongst monsters in order to get their education back on track.

How many times have you watched a really good movie and afterwards thought, "Wow! I wonder what happens next?" I don't know about you, but this happens to me all of the time, and this explains the allure of the sequel. However, I can't think of a concrete example of a time where I watched a film and thought, "Wow! I wonder what happened before the movie started?" This probably explains why prequels are so rare. The larger reason is that prequels come with built-in issues and Monsters University is bogged down by these. It's not unusual for television shows to have a flash-back episode to show how the main characters met. Having an entire feature film based on this premise is a risky endeavor, especially given the fact that we already know that Mike and Sully eventually become best friends. Monsters Inc. proved that this pair work very well together, as Mike's neurotic little-guy personality meshed perfectly with Sully's laid-back outlook on life. Thus, the adversarial scenes in Monsters University simply don't work. Seeing these two as enemies not only doesn't feel right, it's not entertaining. There's also the fact that, being set in the past, the monsters are still using the screams of children as a source of energy. I realize that it's a very small point, but knowing that they will eventually learn that a child's laughter is more powerful makes all of their work to become better scarer's seem futile.

For years, audience and critics have fallen over themselves praising Pixar's original ideas. I, for one, have never agreed with this, as I can easily see where there movies are influenced by other pieces, most notably The Incredibles, which is simply a blend of Fantastic Four, Watchmen, and ideas from various James Bond movies. The same goes for Monsters University. Apparently, someone at Pixar said, "Hey, Revenge of the Nerds came out like thirty years ago so nobody remembers it and besides, our target audience has never heard of it." I'm sure that some find it cute that John Goodman was in Revenge of the Nerds and now he's in Monsters University, but this movie is more than a homage, as it liberally lifts plot-points from that movie. (Although, in an interesting move, it completely abandons any sort of love story.) The fact that Chet (voiced by Bobby Moynihahn) bears a striking resemblance to Ogre and that Johnny Worthington (voiced by Nathan Fillion) looks like Stan Gable, is no coincidence.

Am I being too hard on Monsters University? Probably so, but if Pixar wants to be seen as the gold standard of CG animation, then they need to hit a home run everytime. Monsters University certainly has its moments, most of which are supplied by Mike. Billy Crystal has truly made this character his own and Mike has the bulk of the best lines in the film. Sure, the story is sweet, but, in true Pixar fashion, things go on for too long. I didn't hate Monsters University, but I feel that compared to the first film, it was not only lacking in originality, but in heart as well. I liked seeing Mike and Sully again, just not in this story.

Monsters University does do a good job of explaining Randall's origin on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at 25 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. The picture is very crisp and it truly shows off how detailed the animation is (and how it's advanced since the first film). The colors look fantastic and the image is never overly dark or bright. Even in this 2D version, the depth is great. A truly impressive picture. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely done and in the crowd scenes, they show off noises coming from off-screen. The surround sound effects are very detailed and we can easily pick out individual sounds. The bass effects adds depth to action scenes.

The Monsters University Blu-ray Disc contains many extras. Disc 1 kicks off with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Dan Scanlon, Producer Kori Rae, and Story Supervisor Kelsey Mann. We also get The Blue Umbrella (7 minutes), the animated short which accompanied Monsters University in theaters. It's been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and looks great. The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2, which is divided into many sections. "Campus Life" (15 minutes) takes us inside Pixar to see what an average day there is like. We follow Scanlon through the day and see meetings, screenings of rough animation, voiceovers, and lots of food. "Story School" (9 minutes) examines the process of story-telling which falls outside of and incorporates the animation. We hear how the script is molded and then crafted to be an animated film. We also learn about some abandoned story ideas which would have made the movie better. Bad move, Pixar. "Scare Games" (5 minutes) shows how much fun they have a Pixar. Maybe they should put down the balloons and make a better movie. "Monthropology" (6 minutes) looks at the process of filling the movie and background with many different types of monsters. We see the production design which went into planning the campus and buildings in "Welcome to MU" (6 minutes). "Music Appreciation" (7 minutes) shows Randy Newman working with the orchestra to record the score. "Scare Tactics" (5 minutes) takes us inside the animation process to see how the artists make the characters "act". "Color and Light" (5 minutes) has the animators describing how realistic lighting is incorporated into animation. "Paths to Pixar: MU Edition" (8 minutes) has the creative team discussing how they relate to the characters. "Furry Monsters: A Technical Retrospective" (5 minutes) compares the technology in the first film with this new movie. The Disc contains four DELETED SCENES which run about 22 minutes, includes an introduction by Scanlon. These are all in storyboard form. "Promo Picks" includes "Monsters Mash Up" (4 minutes) is simply a reel which introduces the characters; "College Campaign" includes a clever commercial, a fake NCAA tourney profile, and a TRAILER; and "Theatrical Campaign" contains four TRAILERS. "Set Flythroughs" (6 minutes) has the "camera" going through four "sets" from the movie. Finally, we have an "Art Gallery" which allows the viewer to focus on five aspects of the animation.

Review Copyright 2013 by Mike Long