The ingenuity of devising a misfit character who doesn’t quite fit in, within a species of creatures that, at first glance, seem entirely unrelatable, is wholly brilliant. Pixar, a studio known for originality across the board, did this extremely well in 2001 with “Monsters, Inc.” ‘Well, that was over ten years ago,’ some of you might say; then perhaps you haven’t heard of “Toy Story 3”. They did it once with a franchise based upon reanimated children’s toys, but can they breathe life into another aged film, this time with the premise of a prequel?
The cynics raised their brows at this possibility, and I’ll admit, I am one of them. Well, used to be one of them, as it were.
The summer of 2013 rolls around, and Pixar presents us with “Monsters University.” If you ever had questions about how our green and blue monster friends got into the scaring game, or if they belonged to the most stereotypically lame fraternity house, then look no further. There are plenty of college cliches to enjoy, from the dirtbag jocks, to the over-eager orientation leaders.
Billy Crystal reprises his role of Mike Wazowski, the one-eyed, not very scary, little green man. By his side, the hunk of a blue, polka-dotted, man-bear-yeti, James P. Sullivan, or Sulley (John Goodman). “Monsters University” shows us how the two became friends, and they didn’t start out as roommates, I can promise you that. As any Pixar sequel (or prequel, for that matter) goes, we meet up with some familiar faces along the way. The dastardly Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi) rears his ugly, camouflaged face, but the most fun the audience will have is through a cameo later on in the film (I won’t spoil it, don’t worry).
Our story begins by showing us just exactly how Mike Wazowski became obsessed with the human-scaring industry. Despite being picked on by classmates as a tiny, albeit adorable, monster, Mike developed a love and admiration for upper-division scare legends as a little tyke. In this world, they swap trading cards of the elite scarers, very similar to baseball legends of yore. Ironically, Mike is given the baseball cap of his favorite and most-respected scare legend. This drives Mike to attend Monsters University so he can major in scaring and, ideally, become a legend himself one day. Over time, he meets the before-mentioned Randall and Sulley. Turns out Sulley is actually quite the bag of tools at this point in their friendship, and through an unfortunate turn of events, the two of them are kicked from the scare program, and left to major in less interesting things.
The terrifying Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) is in control of the program, and gave them the boot. Mike, being the resourceful eyeball he is, thinks up a brilliant plot: join the upcoming Scare Games competition, and if he can prove he’s scary enough, Hardscrabble must let him back into the program. Sulley and Mike are actually quite at odds by this point, and are forced to work together to make the plan work. They need at least six on their team, thus enters four new monsters, who together, play off of each other quite well, and actually inspires most of the humor in the film. They are clearly inept and unable to win the competition, but over time, and with lots of training, heart-searching, and a few montages, they may be able to win the coveted trophy, and the title of “Scariest Monsters.”
This is the set-up. It is a Pixar movie after all, but being older than the vast majority of children in the audience, I may have giggled at some of the slapstick at play here, but Pixar has a way of telling deep and involving stories within the animated context. With “Up” we were presented with commentary on true love, and the theme of aging and loss. Here, Pixar toys around with a coming of age, or stepping into a new phase of life; change, if you will.
There are multiple times in “Monsters University” where Mike faces a step in front of him, quite literally actually. He can either choose to turn around and ignore it, or to step forward, make a solid choice, and walk into a new phase of life. Mike is presented with this option at least four times throughout his visual journey. We see the joys of Mike wholeheartedly accepting the new trials before him, but we also see the consequences of his actions. There is indeed a time to grow up, but there is also a time to take a moment to think about what kinds of challenges the future may hold. Luckily, our hero is ready for anything in his path, despite everyone telling him that he just isn’t good enough.
There are enough losers in this movie that anyone who has ever been rejected (all of us) will find someone, or someTHING, to relate to. If you’re fat, there is a monster for you. If you have a penchant for philosophy and deeper thinking, you are somewhat in luck. Finally, if you still live in your mother’s basement and one of your best friends started dating your mother, “Monsters University” is here for you. Outside of the deep metaphors that are presented ever so subtly, there are plenty of surface level discussions to be had.
Pixar hits this one with flying colors, and it’s one you are sure to be called a fool if you miss. “Monsters University” is just too much fun, and I’m confident you will agree with me.
Oh, did I mention that the 3d modeling for Sulley’s character had to render out 5.5 million individual hairs? This is running 24 or 60 frames per second. Using top of the line computer render farms, this would take around 29 hours on average PER frame. The entire film was topping out their total render time at around 100 million hours. This is quite the feat