Blu-ray Review: Monsters University

It's made a ton of money, kids love it, but the first one had more wit and heart.

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While not Pixar’s absolute peak, 2001’s Monsters, Inc. was a witty, inventive, emotionally involving near-classic. In the dozen years since, diminutive Mike and burly Sulley have become a beloved part of the Pixar/Disney brand. Sidestepping conventional sequel territory, Pixar made the interesting choice of going with a prequel. As the title Monsters University makes plain, this one finds the scarers-in-training on campus, learning the ropes.

One thing that is immediately, breathtakingly clear from the get-go: computer-generated animation has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade. Aficionados of the art may be collectively thinking “No duh,” but for those of us who are casual admirers, all one need do is watch University back-to-back with Inc.. The difference, keeping it in decidedly layman’s terms, is simply unreal. University is a blast to simply soak in on a visual level. Campus buildings, streets, and landscapes are at times nearly photo-realistic. Sulley’s fur is so well-defined, you just want to reach into the TV and pet (or comb) him. I bring up the visual beauty for good reason, however, as the plot and pacing are a bit lacking.

s005_121acs.sel16.245 (380x214).jpgThere’s certainly fun to be had in watching Mike (voiced once again by Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman, also returning) as adversaries. Sulley is a naturally scary monster, but also kind of a one-trick-pony. The students are, of course, learning the ins and outs of scaring children so they can one day work at Monsters, Inc. (John Krasinski has a nice bit in the prologue, inspiring a very young Mike to become a scarer). Sulley doesn’t care about the details of any given case, which gets Dean Abigail Hardscrabble’s (Helen Mirren) dander up. He just barrels ahead with the same roar, falling back on the strength of his esteemed family legacy. Meanwhile, little Mike can’t seem to scare anyone. Through a series of predictable paces, the future partners wind up in the same fraternity.

Scare Games 3 (380x214).jpgThe plot, kind of a Revenge of the Nerds throwback, bogs down over the course of 103 minutes as the oddball fraternity Oozma Kappa battles the more traditionally scary houses. Dazzling as the animation is, there just aren’t enough laughs or really any truly new ideas. It’s a classic case of a sequel (or in this case, prequel) reviving favorite characters simply to give fans another go around. The heart provided by the relationship between Sulley and the toddler Boo in the first film is missing. No attempt was made to replace it. Mike and Sulley’s hard-earned friendship and the former’s overcoming of physical limitations in order to effectively scare are just not enough to sustain a feature. Monsters University certainly could’ve made a charming hour-long special (though it would’ve obviously been far less profitable).

s101_24apub.pub16.183 (380x214).jpgAs already stated, the animation is awesome and I can’t imagine the 1080p, AVC-encoded presentation disappointing anyone. Subtleties in color are far greater than in the 2001 original film and the Blu-ray does a remarkably satisfying job displaying every nuance. Sharpness and textural realism are stellar. The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 isn’t as attention-grabbing, but it delivers exactly what is needed. The surround channels are appropriately engaged, adding liveliness to the big crowd scenes during the various scare competitions. Technically, I think Pixar fans will be delighted with this disc in every way.

u100_27f.pub16.cmyk.240.jpg_rgb (380x159).jpgAs for extras, disc one includes the charming animated short The Blue Umbrella, which was part of University’s theatrical run. Commentary by director Dan Scanlon, producer Kori Rae, and story supervisor Kelsey Mann covers all the usual bases. The second Blu-ray disc houses a plethora of short featurettes covering everything from pre-viz to Randy Newman’s score. Instead of one long “making of,” the featurettes break things down into bite-sized pieces, the best of which being “Furry Monsters: A Technical Retrospective.” It focuses on one of the key advances in CG animation since Inc.: realistic monster hair. The “Set Flythroughs” are also very cool, offering mini-tours of various campus locations. There’s also over 20 minutes of deleted scenes and still galleries packed with images.

s111b_5apub.pub16.168 (380x213).jpgMonsters University is a “good enough” extension of Mike and Sulley’s story (Steve Buscemi is back, too, once again voicing the reptilian Randall Boggs). Judging by the wildly successful box office response ($742 million worldwide), kids love it. Parents and other mature viewers just might find themselves wishing there had been more for them in terms of wit. The collector’s edition also includes a standard DVD and digital copy. Monsters University is also available as a 3D edition.


Designing the Campus - Monsters University Featurette on Disney Video

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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