If my lifetime of movie watching has taught me anything, it’s that with enough dedication and hard work, you can be anything that you want to be. I was happy with that life view, having been successfully indoctrinated into the rah-rah feel good camp of self-worth. Leave it to Pixar and their newest film, Monsters University, to subvert this world view, reinforcing the notion that maybe, just maybe, you won’t end up achieving your dream, no matter how desperately motivated you may be.
I’ve come to expect some pretty heavy thematic material from Pixar, but this one felt particularly welcome at this moment in time. We live in a world in which children receive participation medals and are force-fed delusions of superiority in everything that they do. It’s refreshing to see a kid’s film teach that not everybody is cut out for everything, just because they want it. Of course, this material is wrapped in an incredibly entertaining story, one that is far more inviting than the wacky ad campaign would have you believe.
As everyone knows by now, the story is a prequel to Monster’s Inc., showcasing how Mike and Sully met, became friends and ended up where the first Monsters began. Hyped as Pixar’s answer to college movies such as Revenge of the Nerds, there is quite a bit more going on under the surface than we were led to believe. Mike’s passion to become a Scarer is the driving force of the film, with his determination juxtaposed against Sully’s lackadaisical attitude towards the entire Scare industry. Sully’s father is an infamous Scarer, and his plan is to coast on the family name. It was a masterstroke of storytelling to set the film up this way, playing off our prior knowledge that things don’t go the way Mike intends. Yet somehow, they still manage to create a rooting interest for Mike to end up where we know he never does.
In Mike’s attempts to dominate at the Monsters University scare school, he quickly finds himself kicked out of the program, aligned with the “nerds” of the school, and forced to compete in a series of competitions with his biggest threat, Sully. This is the narrative through-line of the film, and in bringing it to life, the filmmakers have expanded on the Monsters world in an incredible way. At the time, the first film felt revolutionary in their depictions of various Monsters, but we see now just how varied and incredible the world of Monstropolis really is. The design work alone is so immersive, the film truly feels like a real location. Whether slimy, furry, or whatever, all manner of creatures are on display. The film is an absolute visual treat.
Even the university is immaculately designed with visual cues throughout that we are in an alternate reality. It is easy to believe that this is a world designed for and by monsters, and there is no denying the artistic achievement that Pixar has accomplished here. I was really afraid that the film was going to feel like a cash-grab, but it is really anything but.
New to Blu-Ray, Disney has released a packed set of extras to flesh out the world of the film. In a creative nod to the film itself, all of the features are labeled as is they are various college curriculum. Campus Life is a fascinating insight into the day-to-day workings at Pixar, Story School is an analysis of breaking down the story, Monthropology is a fascinating look into the design process in regards to the various monsters, etc. I especially enjoyed this last one as it illuminated the developmental process that led to the creation of one of my newest Pixar favorites, Dean Hardscrabble. A cross between a centipede and a bat, this character is a perfect addition to the world, bringing just the right amount of fear to a kid’s film about monsters.
Other extras include a fascinating look at the recording of the score, a feature on color and lighting, deleted scenes, set flythroughs, an art gallery, and on and on. They have also included the gorgeous short film that screened before Monsters University in the theatres, the Blue Umbrella. The most photo-realistic animation Pixar has ever produced, this is a must-see film for anybody interested in just how far the medium has come. The story isn’t the most compelling thing they’ve ever done, but it’s a wonder to view.
I can’t recommend this set enough. I was hugely surprised by just how much emotion was packed into this film. The last third goes in directions I never expected, and the story is a perfect lead-in to Monsters, Inc. Having strongly disliked Cars 2 and only somewhat enjoyed Brave, I am thrilled to have liked this film as much as I did. Despite the technical jumps, this is old school Pixar and a perfect reminder that they really are the best at what they do.