Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Monsters University

MU Poster

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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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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