Note: This review covers the three-disc collector’s edition Blu-ray.
In this prequel to Monsters Inc., Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) meet at college, where they find achieving their dream of becoming professional scarers isn’t as easy as they hoped.
Directed by Dan Scanlon.
Pixar has done some excellent sequels (see Toy Story) and one mediocre sequel (see Cars), but its’ first prequel, Monsters University, is a mixed bag. It certainly has all the humor and visual gags that made the first film so great, but its use of so many college life cliches seems like an uninspired retread.
While there is an entertaining story at its core, with two very different characters finding themselves at college (Mike is the classic overachiever, and Sulley is the talented jock with no motivation), the film relies far too heavily on college life stereotypes to move the story along. The film is still very funny, but it doesn’t feel fresh or original. The mainstays that we’ve seen in every college comedy since Animal House are here: the elitist jock at the big fraternity (at least here, he’s voiced by Nathan Fillion), the nerdy fraternity, the overbearing dean, the rival school mascot, and the physical contest between the little and big men on campus. Despite some clever humor and “monster” themes, it always seems to remind you of something you’ve seen before.
Even so, the movie is fun and entertaining, and the animation is superb. Billy Crystal and John Goodman are both excellent, but the movie doesn’t give them much to interact with. In the first film, much of the humor originated from the two bouncing jokes off each other. Here, they are rivals for most of the film, and the camaraderie we enjoyed before isn’t here until late in the film.
Thankfully, many of the supporting characters pick up the slack, and the visual gags come in bunches. In fact, some of the film’s biggest laughs come from the supporting cast and various monsters that populate the university. It certainly makes for nice atmosphere, but the heart of the first film, the chemistry between Crystal and Goodman, just isn’t there.
Overall, Monsters University is an entertaining romp, and visually, it ranks among Pixar’s best. It doesn’t quite reach classic status like other Pixar greats, and it falls short of the first film, with a story that seems lifted from any generic 1980s college or summer camp film. It isn’t very original, so parents won’t find it terribly interesting, but kids will love the visuals and physical gags.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
The high-definition video is near perfect, as Monsters University shows every little colorful detail in a jaw-dropping image that warrants multiple viewings to take it all in. Detail is razor-sharp and colors are bold and beautiful. Pixar has outdone themselves by producing a visually stunning film.
Audio is fantastic, with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix with a deep, rich sound and even some decent low-end. French and Spanish soundtracks are available as well.
Disney has packed a huge amount of extras, so much so, that most of them are included on a second Blu-ray. The “feature” disc, which includes the movie, only includes two special features: an animated short and an audio commentary. The short, called “The Blue Umbrella,” runs about six minutes and involves an umbrella in the big city who sees his soulmate in a another passing umbrella.
The audio commentary is excellent, featuring director Don Scanlon, producer Kori Rae, and script supervisor Kelsey Mann. Scanlon’s observations and stories are very insightful, and he has a nice nice rapport with both Rae and Mann. Most commentaries leave me extremely bored. This one didn’t.
The second disc names and presents the extras (mostly featurettes) like college courses. It is an eclectic and entertaining mix of features, from deleted scenes to interesting takes on the “behind-the-scenes” featurette. The disc’s best extra, however, is an inspirational collection of stories from Pixar staffers recalling their shortcomings in college and professional rejections, and how those failures eventually them to a dream job. It is a great watch.
“Campus Life” is a “day in the life” featurette hosted by Dan Scanlon which shows the inner workings of a typical day at Pixar Studios. Animators, producers, and everyone in between gets a bit of screen time. We even get a look at the Pixar cafeteria, which is ten times better than your work’s cafeteria. Coolest bit of trivia: director Scanlon takes the bus and train to and from Pixar everyday, just like a regular joe.
“Story School” looks into the basics of telling a story verbally, and especially in the case of animation, visually. A number of Pixar artists discuss the process, and we see how every scene is looked at again and again to be the best it could be. “Scare Games” shows how the various departments at Pixar blew off steam – with a series of games and competitions inspired by the movie.
“Monthropology” is a quick look (it runs about six minutes) at how Pixar created dozens of new monsters, from concept to animation. There’s a big focus on the character of Dean Hardscrabble, including how it evolved from male to female, and how the character’s “centipede” look originated. The “Welcome to MU” featurette provides a look at how artists created the look of the Monsters University campus.
“Music Appreciation” focuses on recording the score for the film, especially the work of composer Randy Newman. “Scare Tactics” provides a look at how animators made a bunch of cute, colorful monsters scary enough to get an emotional reaction from the audience. It’s harder than you think. The “Color and Light” featurette highlights the use of a “color script,” which is the use of concept drawings with the script to define the color and light levels and give a scene the right look for animators to follow.
“Paths to Pixar – MU Edition” is the best special feature on the disc, in which Pixar employees talk about their failures at college, much like Mike and Sulley face in the film. They describe how they endured rejection and hardship, but eventually found their way to Pixar through hard work. It is actually quite inspirational for anyone who has or is having trouble succeeding at college.
“Furry Monster: A Technical Retrospective” describes the incredibly complicated process of animating fur. You will also discover how Pixar animators had to apply mathematical processes and algorithms to make it look natural.
Four deleted scenes are included, and include an introduction from director Scanlon. The scenes are pretty entertaining, including a discarded opening sequence in which Mike and Sulley meet as kids, and a subplot involving a college play.
“Promo Picks” is a series of promotional shorts created for the film. “Monster Mash Ups” are a series of animated gags featuring the movie’s characters. “College Campaign” is actually three TV spots spoofing college commercials. The “Theatrical Campaign” includes four trailers, including the teaser and a Japanese trailer. Judging by the trailer alone, the Japanese need the entire plot of a movie explained to them before they will see it.
“Set Flythoughs” are just as described – sweeping flyovers of the film’s major sets. An art gallery includes literally hundreds of images to look at, from character keys to concept art, this is an impressive archive. There are so many images included, my Panasonic Blu-ray player actually took a while to load each category. A digital copy of the film is also included.
THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR NETFLIX IT?
Ratings (1-10 scale)
Overall score: 9
Though entertaining, Monsters University isn’t quite as good as Monsters Inc., but Disney still gives us a top-shelf Blu-ray release. The video and audio are exceptional, and the special features are all you could ask for. Overall, Monsters University is a solid Blu-ray that will appeal to kids and give fans of the film the supplemental material they crave. It is a solid buy.
Release date: October 29, 2013
Running time: 104 minutes
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0, English 2.0 Dolby Digital Descriptive Video Service, French 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Special features: “The Blue Umbrella” animated short, “Campus Life” featurette, “Story School” featurette, “Scare Games” featurette, “Monthropology” featurette, “Welcome to MU” featurette, “Music Appreciation” featurette, “Scare Tactics” featurette, “Color and Light” featurette, “ Paths to Pixar: MU Edition” featurette, “Furry Monsters: A Technical Retrospective” featurette, Four deleted scenes, Set Flythroughs, Promo Picks, and an Art Gallery.
Audio Commentary: Participants include director Dan Scanlon, script supervisor Kelsey Mann, and producer Kori Rae.
Label: Walt Disney Home Entertainment