Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Monsters University

Directed by San Scanlon.
2013. Rated PG, 104 minutes. 
Nathan Fillion 
Julia Sweeney

Instead of continuing the story of Monsters, Inc., we take a trip back in time to the college days of our heroes. Most of our focus is on Mike (Crystal). He's wanted to be the greatest scarer of all-time since he was a very young monster. He is so obsessed with the idea, he has literally worked toward it his entire life. There is absolutely no question that he will major in Scaring when en enters Monsters University. There is one little bitty issue. Mike is not particularly scary. Soon, he meets Sully (Goodman), our other hero.

Sully is a natural, having descended from some of the industry's greats. He is much more of a jock while Mike is a bookworm. They do not get along. Their bickering even occurs in class and winds up getting them both kicked out of the Scaring program. As a last-ditch effort to get back in, they make a wager with Dean Hardscrabble (Mirren), who dislikes them both. If they, and the fraternity of misfits they're stuck with, win the campus Scare Games, they will be allowed back into the program. If they do not, they must leave school altogether.

Early on, the differences between Mike and Sully form a solid foundation for the movie. It's not just their arguing, but the choices each makes, and the people with whom they surround themselves. Best of all, Mike isn't a meek personality. He's a feisty little guy, not afraid to tell the big bad Sully what he thinks of him. Later on, their having to work together is the satisfactory development of a friendship. It is appropriately rocky, but undoubtedly on an upward swing. What's set up by all of this is a classic underdog story. When the movie launches into the Scare Games, it's fun watching the guys navigate the various events and figure out a way through them. We see them grow and bond as a team and have a good time doing it.

None of this would matter if the movie weren't funny. It is just that all the way through. Many of the jokes don't come from our heroes, though. The supporting players bring much more of the funny. The star of the show, in this regard, is Sherri Squibbles, the mother of one of the misfits. Julia Sweeney does a wonderful job with the voice and she is just a hilarious character. She lights up the screen every time she graces it. Another standout, in less screen time, is Steve Buscemi's reprisal of his role as Randy. As for Mike and Sully, they do have a number of funny moments, but they're more responsible for the drama. That drama is also well-handled. it is tense at the right times. The tension is cranked up the highest during a scene late in the movie when some horror elements are introduced. Also helping in the tension department is Helen Mirren as Dean Hardscrabble. She provides us with a solid villain with a commanding presence.

Though this is an underdog story, Monsters University is to be commended for not being satisfied with the easy finish. It seems to give us this and appears all set to ride off into the sunset. Instead, it throws us a bit of a curveball and the film continues. Rather than feeling like a false finish, it works in service of the developing relationship of our heroes and strengthens the movie for us. It directly leads to the finale which, as I mentioned, makes very nice use of horror movie tropes. When it actually does end, whether the kiddies watching realize this or not, the movie is better for going the extra mile.

No comments:

Post a Comment