Monsters University (2013)

Monsters UniversityRelease Date: June 21, 2013

Director: Dan Scanlon

Stars: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi

Runtime: 110 min

Pixar is one of this century’s most consistent studios; but they are fallible. I’ve seen 10 out of 14 of their movies. Cars 2 is apparently the runt of the litter, and I haven’t seen that, or the original. Brave (my review) is a good animated movie, but I’m not so big on the story and I haven’t (nor has anyone else, I doubt) forgiven it for winning that Oscar for Best Animated Feature yet. Monsters University is the fourteenth film out of Pixar’s creative cannon, and their first prequel.

From the moment Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) met, they couldn’t stand each other. Monsters University brings us a look at the relationship between Mike and Sulley when they weren’t exactly two peas in a pod.

Many people, mostly critics, have set their expectations for Pixar movies too high after the release of Toy Story 3. They’re a studio, they’re going to make a mistake. Their movies won’t be near-perfect or beloved each time. Deal with it. I’m here to tell you that this time around, Monsters University is deserving of being called one of Pixar’s best movies in years. I’m sure it will become a classic one day. It’s a great animated movie and a great Pixar movie. I’m not going to mention any other Pixar movie (excluding Monsters, Inc.) from here-on-out in this review. I want to review it as a Pixar movie, and not as a Pixar movie in the shadow of other, possibly better Pixar movies. I’m not going to pretend it isn’t a Pixar movie, because that just isn’t possible, and a disservice to Pixar. It also isn’t possible because their exemplary animation is present.

This is the most creative, the most charming, and the best, animated movie of the year so far. It’s heart-warming, moving, and funny. Everything here is top notch. The story features great entertainment and a whole lot of heart. The animation is beautiful, and the creativity put into this is prominent. The stakes are high during the movie; because of a situation caused by Mike and Sulley’s feud. Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), is a frightening monster who, in some ways, is reminiscent of Henry Waternoose from Monsters, Inc. Thankfully, and impressively, this Dean is a completely different character. One might get the vibe that this franchise teaches University deans and bosses cannot be trusted.

I love how Pixar can create movies that both children and adults will love. The humour isn’t always cutesy, it’s usually extremely clever. The plot is also smart and rather enthralling for an animated family feature. The last thirty (or so) minutes is an amazing final act, and one of the best and most memorable in Pixar’s filmography. Even people with the smallest bladders should hold their urine like there’s no god-damn tomorrow. This is set at a university (hence: Monsters University), which might play a part in the appeal to older audiences. This isn’t set where it is purely because of marketing to older audiences (because Monsters, Inc. definitely would be enough to bring fans back to the theatre to see this). This is set at a university because it’s the best time for these two monsters to meet. It’s when people meet their lifelong friends. It’s where their feud makes sense. This wouldn’t be set at a pre-school, mostly because their feud could be over petty things like a crayon or Teddy Graham crackers (even though those are really freaking tasty). The creators really know what they’re doing, and how to give each of these characters depth.

You better believe this little guy is the cutest thing about the movie.

You better believe this little guy is the cutest thing in the movie.

There’s a new slate of colourful and inventive characters. This university looks like a great place to go to school. (And since Mike and Sulley can attend university, it makes me think I can do it, too!) This is part coming-of-age tale because the fraternity house crew, Oozma Kappa, that Mike and Sulley fall into, are a group of misfits who cannot scare, but they do have a lot of heart. The gang, and Mike, must find it within themselves to let out their scariest and mightiest roars.

One of the main criticisms this movie might receive is that “it doesn’t need to exist”. Justin Bieber doesn’t need to exist, but some people like him. (Yes, I did just compare this to Justin Bieber. If Monsters U is going to go up against Justin Bieber, MU is going to win ten times out of ten.) If you do feel MU didn’t have to see the light of day, you’ll be glad it gets made. As a fan of Pixar, a lover of movies, and a lover of Mike and Sulley, I’m estatic this exists. This movie is so entertaining, and I love it. It’s a great opportunity to see beloved characters in a new light.

They get new layers. Mike is a student who knows everything about everything, but he hasn’t always felt like he belongs. Sulley is a student who thinks he can get by just because of his family name. We see these characters in new, more vulnerable situations. We get to see these two monsters become an inseparable pair. We also get to see how Randall Boggs came to hate this dynamic duo. We also get to see some hilarious cameos. And for those opportunities, I will always cherish this fantastic film. I will always watch this with a big smile on my face. This is an impressive prequel to Monsters, Inc., and an impressive Pixar movie.

90/100

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Monsters, Inc. (3D) (2001)

Monsters, Inc.Monsters,  Inc. (3D)

Release Date: November 2, 2012 (3D Re-release: December 19, 2012)

Directors: Pete Docter, David Silverman, Lee Unkrich

Stars (voices): John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi

Runtime: 92 min

Tagline: Monsters, Inc. : We scare because we care

Monsters, Inc. is the fourth film that Disney is re-releasing in 3D (along with The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Finding Nemo) and the second for Disney’s Pixar. They are a studio that knows how to use the modern 3D visual effects with fine moderation. It seems as if they only visually enhance the best action scenes in a major way.

A city of monsters called Monstropolis centers around its power company, Monsters, Inc. That said power company generates the city’s electricity by scaring children half to death – they go into the human world and the more they scare the children, the more power they generate. The top scarer is James P. Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman), the lovable and cuddly big blue guy. At least, he’s lovable to his friends in the monster world – he’s the fuel for nightmares in the human world. He and his little green bowling ball buddy, Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) are the perfect dream team and the best of pals. One day, Randall (voiced by Steve Buscemi), a chameleon-like bogeyman leaves a door in the factory on purpose to steal the child he scares and use her for sinister purposes. However, Sully gets in the way – and the small child, Boo, wreaks havoc in the monster world and may just drive a wedge between the relationship of Sully and Mike. Will they be able to return Boo home and avoid Randall by all means?

The concept for this film is one of the most original for animated features to ever see the big old silver screen. While the children of that world are afraid of the big old monsters hiding in their closets every night; those monsters are terrified of an adorable girl in piggly wiggly tails and even a human sock that has an interaction with their skin. It’s very clever and fun. While the concept may be somewhat edgy for a family feature, it turns out to be fan-freaking-tastic.

It’s helped out by its fast pace, visually great action sequences and laugh-out-loud comedy. The comedy is astounding for the children, and it’s thoroughly enjoyable for older audiences. Everyone can really relate to this, as we as children would check under our beds before we sleep or ask our parents to inspect the closet for bogeymen (heck, I even look under my bed now from time to time – and I don’t even have a closet door any longer).

It is fairly surprising that one can so easily relate to this feature, as it is a simply refreshing and brilliant story about monsters who are terrified of little children, and vice versa. It also brings much truth to the “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” That is especially true for one monster, George, one who constantly gets mauled by the Child Detection Agency.

The story is great and it’s an overall splendid feature, but the real charm is in the voice performances. Goodman and Crystal convince us that they might as well have been friends for life, and the other chemistry is fine. Everyone involved does a great job, especially Mary Gibbs who voices Boo, and I’m pretty sure the only coherent word of English she utters is “Kitty,” the nickname she assigns to Sully. She is also a young girl who, unexpectedly, changes the factory and the hearts of a few select monsters for the better. You know, There are more powerful things that the sound of children screaming.

In a nutshell: Monsters,  Inc. is one of the most original animated features to see the light of day, and it is one of Pixar’s best. It is really a treat to be given the opportunity to see this in theatres again, and just a few months before the much-anticipated prequel.

100/100

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Rise of the Guardians

Release Date: November 21, 2012

Director: Peter Ramsey

Stars (voices): Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher

Runtime: 97 min

Tagline: Legends Unite.

Wait a minute, wait a minute! Who’s Jack Frost, again…? Is he that one guy that’s always nipping at everyone’s noses?

When a forgotten bogeyman from the Dark Ages called Pitch launches an assault of fear on earth, the Immortal Guardians are all called to fight off against him to maintain the innocence of children all over the world.

The beginning feels sort of like one student in high school is trying to write a report, but they’re having trouble organizing their thoughts. That being said, the beginning is an introduction to the characters which feels a bit disorganized. Though, after a small amount of time, it finds its pace and the story just gets better and better.
This is a great time of year to try to build up the spirits of children everywhere. This is brilliant because this time around, it is not all about Ole’ Saint Nicolas. Everyone gets their chance to shine in this. The Guardians are just great, and they give all the figures, that children believe in, the chance to show their flares.

There’s of course Santa Claus, but this time around he has a funky Russian-esque accent offered by the voicework of Alec Baldwin. He is pretty traditional looking, but he also seems pretty edgy because of his ‘Naughty’ and ‘Nice’ tattoos on his forearms. He offers some insight onto who’s actually making the toys at the North Pole. Apparently, it’s a bunch of Yeti’s, they only make the pointy-hatted elves think they’re making the toys. Who knew?

There’s also the Easter Bunny. Hop was the last Easter-themed flick, but the Guardians‘ Bunny makes the little Easter Bunny from Hop look very ordinary. Here, Hugh Jackman offers some great voicework to this character, and in the process he makes him Australian. He’s a six foot-two Easter Bunny that has a sweet boomarang, that makes him feel like he just stepped out of a video game.

There’s the Tooth Fairy, voiced by the beautiful Isla Fisher, who’s a mix between human and hummingbird. There’s also the mute Sandman (who isn’t voiced by anyone, the studio dodged a bullet casting this guy) who communicates with symbols and funny gestures. There isn’t any explanation necessary on what these two do. Though, this next character, you might need a little introduction to him.

The new Guardian in town is the wayward Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine). No, not anything like a snowman or Martin Short’s version of him. All Jack wants to do is cause snow days and havoc, but he wants to have a little fun while doing it. He constantly wonders of his true destiny, and he is a character that knows what it feels like to be invisible. Another character that knows what it feels like to be ostracized and forgotten is the film’s main antagonist, Pitch Black (voiced by Jude Law).

Pitch is a jagged-toothed Bogeyman that wants to instill fear in the hearts of children everywhere. His main motivation of doing this is so he can teach the Immortal Guardians the feeling of loneliness and invisibility he has felt for hundreds of years. He wants to be the big guy on campus for once. Pitch’s main rivals are both Jack Frost and the Sandman. When Pitch steals Frost’s memory of a former life, Frost’s motivation is to retrieve this very valuable material. Frost is also on the fence about his destiny, and he relates to Pitch from time to time because he, too, knows what it feels like to be overlooked because of his juvenile behaviour. The main conflict between Sandy and Pitch is simple. The Sandman brings happy dreams to the children of the world, while Pitch brings dark nightmares. Sandy is obviously not very happy about this, and you won’t like him when he’s angry. However, these are not the only conflicts – the characters are all given their time to shine, so it never feels as if there is one primary character.

There was a concept that came to mind when both the characters of Pitch and Man on the Moon (the moon practically, it’s like God to the Guardians) were initially introduced. It brought to mind the concept of how Lucifer was cast out of Heaven by God, because he wanted to be the head honcho. A plot point that I attempted to predict is that Pitch may have once been a Guardian, but then he was cast down because he was turning evil. That’s just a thought that came to mind because of the good vs. evil forces.

The message is one of the finest in animated films this year: if you believe, it will overcome all fear. It’s greatly displayed in this family film.

Like Monsters, Inc. was with Pixar, this DreamWorks’ edgy children’s and family film. It’s a sort of strange concept that works pretty well. Pitch, the Bogeyman, is sometimes depicted so ominously, it might be a little too hard to handle for the smaller children. There is also some thematic material that can get quite dark. However, there is enough innocent humour to level it all out.

The 3D effects are sometimes gimmicky, but that’s okay. While it is sometimes gimmicky, there are also many cool effects that bring very inventive animation to life even more vibrantly.

Rise of the Guardians is a slightly flawed animated adventure that may have some deeply thematic material and action sequences that could be midly scary for small children. The main flaw is the beginning, because it feels disorganized – but it finds its pace soon enough. The story is wildly inventive, as are the alterations of the beloved Guardians. It’s a great thing to teach the kids this holiday season – don’t just believe in Santa Claus, believe in the other figures too, when their time of year comes around, at least.

80/100

100th Review: Brave (2012)

Brave

Release Date: June 22, 2012

Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell

Stars (voices): Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson

Runtime: 93 min

Tagline: Change your fate.

Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.

Considering that this took six years under works, one would think this would be a little better. The story is just lacking, and it isn’t enough to be entertaining throughout the whole 93 minutes. Where it lacks in story; it makes up in message, characters and laughs.

Merida is the first female protagonist of a Pixar film, and she’s a promising first attempt. She is headstrong and very ambitious. She feels that her fate is carved in stone, but she wishes to alter it somehow. When she does try to change it, however, it comes with drastic consequences. When she gives her even more headstrong mother a potion (in the form of a cake), made for her by a witch shop owner, Merida has no idea her mother will turn into a bear, the very animal her father hunts. This situation causes many problems, like her father and castle guests sent on a wild bear hunt, but also causes Merida and her mother’s relationship to prosper. With this situation, they are able to see life through the other person’s eyes. Also, the father is a great character, he is quite funny. The voicework from everyone involved is pretty great, everyone has funny moments and they offer jokes that are great for all ages. Merida’s three brothers are pretty cute; not anything special, they’re just cute. They’re practically mute, so they’re just there to lighten the mood a little.

The message is pretty great – honour your parents and communicate well with them, and cherish family. It’s a message all children should learn and hold dear, because family is a great support system. Though, this message isn’t anything a child’s parents can’t teach them.

The sequences of archery and other action sequences are quite great, but some scenes can get somewhat frightening for younger viewers (maybe anyone under the age of 4 or 5).

I’ve seen many better stories in animated features. The whole ‘undo a curse’ premise feels quite reminiscent of Shrek. Sure, this is quite original, but Shrek did come to mind while watching this. Maybe it felt reminiscent of Shrek because Shrek has a Scottish accent… Anyway, back to the story. The pacing is decent, but it isn’t a story that works well enough to fill ninety minutes. This is Pixar’s first period piece, and even though the story isn’t superb, the mythology was intriguing. Regardless of the story, the animation is very beautiful. It is some of the finest I’ve ever seen, and some of the finest animation of the year. The Scottish scenery is really beautiful and it really complements the animation. Also, it really portrays Scotland as a beautiful place, and it portrays its people as beautiful. Some may seem like lumberjacks, but they seem so cheery – it’s hard not to like them. All the Scottish accents in the film are sort of contagious, and when one quotes or explains the film, it’s hard not to talk in that dialect.

Brave offers some great characters, some fine animation, and a very mediocre story. Compared to great Pixar stories like Toy Story or Monsters, Inc., it pales in comparison. Brave does a great job of mixing beautiful animation with great Scottish scenery, and it makes for an experience that is worth checking out. It might not win Best Animated Feature of the Year (my “money’s” on Wreck-It Ralph), but it certainly deserves a nomination.

70/100