Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Monsters University

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Title: Monsters University

Rating: G

Cast: Billy Crystal (Mike Wazowski), John Goodman (James Sullivan, aka “Sulley”), Steve Buscemi (Randall), Helen Mirren (Dean Hardscrabble), Peter Sohn (Squishy), Joel Murray (Don), Sean Hayes/Dave Foley (Terri/Terry), Charlie Day (Art), Nathan Fillion (Johnny Worthington III)

Director: Dan Scanlon

The Basics: In this long-awaited prequel to Pixar’s 2001 hit Monsters, Inc., we travel back in time to when Mike met Sulley as freshmen in the prestigious Monsters University Scare Program. The monsters initially clash (Mike is a hard-working bookworm while Sulley tries to get by on pure talent and family reputation), but they learn to work together when both join Oozma Kappa, a fraternity full of lovable outcasts. This colorful, hilarious, and surprisingly deep film is more than just Pixar’s take on Revenge of the Nerds. It’s a story about what happens to our goals and dreams as we grow up and learn that sometimes life doesn’t go according to our best-laid plans. While it may not be as narratively original as the best of Pixar’s films, Monsters University is still a great example of what this studio does better than any other.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): The animators on this film deserve to be singled out for their incredible achievements. No two monsters look exactly alike (with the exception of the PNK sorority sisters), and that’s no easy feat. The color palette in this film was brilliant. The vibrant colors were a great fit for the energetic and youthful tone of the film; when you first go to college, it’s like entering a bright new world filled with colorful new people, and the animators captured that feeling perfectly. Also, they did an incredible job with the amount of detail shown on each monster. From the scales on Don’s skin to each strand of fur on Sulley’s body (especially his totally in-character spike of hair), I was blown away by the care taken to make each monster look as lifelike as possible.

Scene Stealer: While the entire voice cast was stellar, I cannot get over how genius it was to cast Helen Mirren as the voice of Dean Hardscrabble. Her voice oozes class and poise but also a sense of controlled intensity that was ideal for the character. Every time her character was onscreen, I found myself hanging on every word she said, which is exactly the way students feel when addressed by such an important faculty member. Pixar always manages to surprise me with the talent they put in their films, and this was no exception.

Bring the Tissues: Monsters University may not be a sobfest like Toy Story 3 or the opening minutes of Up, but it still offers some very powerful scenes about the realities of growing up and the struggles we all face in trying to determine if the dreams we had as children are compatible with the realities of who we are as adults. To make a long story short, if you’re 18 or over, you should probably be prepared to shed a tear or two.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? If you stay until after the (very long) credits, you’ll be rewarded with a cute and funny scene referencing an earlier gag in the film. It has no bearing on the plot or any future films, but it’s fun and gives you a chance to hear Bill Hader’s voice again.

Most Memorable Scene: I don’t want to give away any spoilers for the end of the film, so I’ll just say there’s a nice twist that takes Monsters University from being a cute film about a group of outcasts overcoming obstacles to a much deeper film about one of the hardest lessons of adulthood: Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you think they’re supposed to. With that twist (involving Mike, Sulley, Dean Hardscrabble, and a scare simulator), this film joined the pantheon of great Pixar films about growing up. It has lessons for kids about honesty and the importance of working hard, but it also has an important message for young adults struggling to carve out their identity: There’s more than one way to be successful, and being unable to live up to the expectations we put on ourselves (or our parents/teachers put on us) doesn’t mean we’ve failed. It just means we get to find a new dream—one more realistic to who we’ve become. Without that plot twist, this film is just another typical underdog success story, but with that twist, it becomes so much more.

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The Force Was With Me

How can you make a Disney World vacation even more wonderful than usual? By adding Star Wars characters, of course!

Jango Fett did not seem impressed by my winning smile.

Jango Fett did not seem impressed by my winning smile.

If you love Star Wars, you have to get yourself to one of the Star Wars Weekends held at Hollywood Studios every May and June. It was an experience I’ll never forget and probably one of my favorite days spent in a Walt Disney World theme park (and that is high praise coming from me!).

Our Star Wars Weekends experience began before the park gates officially opened. A fantastic preshow to the day’s festivities happened along Hollywood Boulevard, with two Stormtroopers standing guard over the guests waiting to be let into the rest of the park. One of the best parts of Star Wars Weekends is the cheeky personality given to each Stormtrooper, and this preshow introduced them in a great way.

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Before entering the rest of the park, we had to pass by this guy.

At the end of Hollywood Boulevard—in front of the iconic Sorcerer Mickey Hat—there was a giant stage that was the center of the action during Star Wars Weekends. As the day began, the classic Star Wars theme music blared from the park’s speaker system and a narrator gave an overview of the day’s events—from the afternoon parade featuring beloved Star Wars characters to special interview shows with celebrities held throughout the day.

My family and I attended one of those interview shows—Stars of the Saga—which featured guest emcee James Arnold Taylor (the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi on Star Wars: The Clone Wars) interviewing two giants of the original trilogy: Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian). Held in a special theater near the Streets of America, this is one Star Wars Weekends event I would recommend to everyone. Even if you only have a passing knowledge of Star Wars, it’s pretty cool to tell people you were in a room with Chewbacca.

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Where Magic Lives

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I have a lot of interests, a lot of passions. Some I’ve only developed recently (I’m looking at you, A Song of Ice and Fire), and some have been with me for most of my life (my devotion to books). But a select few have been a part of my life before my earliest memories; they are such an intrinsic part of the fabric of who I am that I can’t separate my identity from their influence—not that I would ever want to.

Walt Disney World is one of those passions.

Having some fun in the new Tangled bathroom area of the Magic Kingdom on my latest Disney World trip.

Having some fun in the new Tangled bathroom area of the Magic Kingdom on my latest Disney World trip.

I’ve been traveling to Disney World with my family since I was a toddler, and it’s beyond just my favorite place on Earth. It’s my happy place. Everyone has one—the place where you feel most like the best version of yourself. Disney World is a place where you’re taught that you’re never too old to hope for happy endings, where the possibility of magic is around every corner. And in the words of the great Rick Castle:

If you don’t believe in even the possibility of magic, you’ll never ever find it.

I found magic in Disney World when I was a little girl, and the beauty of that place is that I still find it more than two decades later. I find magic in everything from the smiles of kids meeting their favorite characters for the first time to the music they play as you exit the park at night. Magic lives in the lobby of every hotel, in the light from each firework, and in the kindness of each Cast Member.

Nerdy Girl Notes was started as a place to celebrate the unironic enthusiasm we all have for the things that mean the most to us. Disney World has always been the best example of something that—no matter how old I get or how cynical the world around me becomes—I will always be unironically enthusiastic about.

I don’t remember a time in my life before I knew what it was like to ride on Dumbo, hug Mickey Mouse, and turn the corner on Main Street to see Cinderella’s Castle in all its glory standing before me. My childhood was filled with memories of character meals, learning Spanish on the monorail, and waiting in line for Peter Pan’s Flight. My adolescence was filled with adventures on Star Tours, first times on Space Mountain and Test Track, and trying all kinds of new foods around World Showcase. And now, as an adult, I still find joy in the little moments—from the first bite of a Disney cupcake to the last drop on Splash Mountain.

I was a Disney kid, and now I’m a Disney kid-at-heart. I believe in happily ever after, the power of wishes, and that a dream can be a dream come true—with just that spark in me and you.

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Return of the Nerdy Girl

Did you miss me?

On Saturday night, I returned home from a blissful 10-day vacation in Disney World. I’m hoping to have all of my pictures uploaded tonight so I can write a couple of fun trip recaps for you over the next few days, including one devoted to the perfection that was my Star Wars Weekend experience (Three words: Darth Vader Cupcake). All I’ll say for now is that if you’re a Star Wars fan, you should try to get down to Disney World at least once in your lifetime for one of those weekends.

I have to say a special thanks to both Heather and Leah for keeping NGN running smoothly while I was away. And thanks to all of you who read and commented even though I was so distracted by all of the fun (and all of the food) in Disney World that I am criminally behind on replying.

Here’s a little taste of the fun I had to tide you over until I have time to write something longer. Disney + Star Wars + dancing = the best party ever. I can’t think of any better way to spend a weekend.

Just Keep Swimming: My Favorite Pixar Movies

As my Disney World journey continues, I felt it was only right to follow yesterday’s countdown of my favorite Disney movies with a countdown of my favorites from Pixar. I shortened my list from a Top 10 to a Top 5 because Pixar is still a relatively new studio. Though it may be new, it continually produces animated films with both exceptional visual artistry and incredible emotional depth. If you can find an adult who hasn’t had tears in their eyes during at least one Pixar film, I’d be shocked.

5. Wall-E (2008)

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Wall-E is such a quietly powerful and visually impressive film. It’s such a bold, brave movie; it’s a “family film” that spends nearly the first half of its runtime without dialogue and doesn’t suffer at all for it. Instead, the film achieves a level of intimacy that wouldn’t have been reached had the subject matter been approached in a “normal” way. Besides the big risks and big rewards of its first half, the film itself is simply a beauty—especially the gorgeous scene of Wall-E and EVE in space. Wall-E is Pixar’s greatest love story and one of the sweetest cinematic romances to come out in recent years.

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Tales as Old as Time: My Favorite Disney Movies

To celebrate my current Walt Disney World adventure, I thought it was fitting to count down my Top 10 Disney animated films for you. Do you agree with my choices? Which movies make your list?

10. Cinderella (1950)

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There’s something so quintessentially magical about this film that I smile just thinking about it. Even though Snow White was the first Disney princess, Cinderella will always be the epitome of a Disney princess to me: elegant, beautiful, kind, hopeful, and strong in her own way. The scene where Cinderella’s torn dress is transformed into her iconic gown will always be a Disney classic, and the image of the prince trying that glass slipper on Cinderella’s foot will always fill me with renewed belief in “happily ever after.”

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A Little Hiatus of My Own

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I’m going to Disney World!

Tomorrow, I leave for a vacation with my family and one of my best friends for a week and a half in the Happiest Place on Earth. Disney World is my favorite place on the planet because it reminds you that you’re never too old to feel hopeful and happy. Plus, this year we’ll be down there for Star Wars Weekends, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.

I’ll be gone until the 15th, but I have a few posts queued up for your reading pleasure while I’m away. In addition, the lovely and unfailingly helpful Heather will be keeping things running over here while I’m gone, and the wonderful Leah will be contributing some writing (specifically recaps for Teen Wolf) while I’m away. I’d strongly suggest following both of them on Twitter for some thoughtful media commentary while I’m hanging out with Mickey Mouse.

If you are interested in my Disney adventures, you can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram, too!