- Street Date:
- October 29th, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Michael S. Palmer
- Review Date: 1
- October 24th, 2013
- Movie Release Year:
- Disney/Buena Vista
- 102 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Rated G
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
A prequel to the 2001 film, 'Monsters, Inc.', 'Monsters University' takes us back to the very beginning of the Sulley-Mike friendship. You see, the Monster world needs to scare children in order to turn their screams into a power source. But before you can become a professional scarer, you need to hone your skills at a place like Monster University's prestigious Scare School.
Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) is a little green walking-talking eyeball. His dream: to become the world's greatest scarer. Sure, Mike might not be physically imposing, but he's the hardest working student in the school. James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) is a large blue-green furry beast with pink polka dots. Sulley is naturally gifted and comes from a family of famous scarers. His dream: to become the world's greatest scarer. But Sully doesn't think he needs to study or even try; he's ready to go pro.
Mike and Sulley become instant rivals, Mike trying to prove to all the haters that he can become a great scarer, and Sulley loathing Mike because Mike's extra efforts outshine some of Sulley's natural abilities. When Mike and Sulley get into an argument moments before an all-important final exam, the imposing Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) kicks them both out of the scare program. Mike and Sulley's life dreams seem over.
Then, through a series of loopholes and a public wager with the dean, they earn one last shot at getting back into the Scare School. How? Each year, MU's fraternities and sororities compete in the annual Scare Games, which were founded by none other than Dean Hardscrabble. If Mike and Sulley can find a way to work as a team with the least scary frat on campus -- the ragtag misfits of Oozma Kappa (OK) -- and they win the Scare Games, Dean Hardscrabble will admit Sulley, Mike, and the Oozma's into the Scare School. But if they lose, Mike will have to leave Monsters University... forever.
'Monsters University' is an interesting movie to discuss from a critical standpoint. Prequels, as the Pixar filmmakers discuss repeatedly in the Special Features and Audio Commentary, are incredibly challenging because the audience knows where the characters end up. We know Mike and Sulley's adult relationship. So then, if the prequel can't surprise audiences with the destination -- with our characters' Destiny -- they must be about an unexpected character arcs and emotional journeys.
I would argue knowing a film's Destiny is a device that works better in a tragedy structure. Think of the opening monologue in 'Romeo + Juliet'. We know the star-crossed lovers are going to take their lives. Why and How become the story engines that hurtle us towards the terribly inevitable. It's excruciating and tense. (By the way, getting this wrong is why so many of those Chosen One YA novels are boring, because they're all about a character who is guaranteed to save the day.)
But can the same thing be applied to a family film? To a comedy? Where the ticking clock is, "how will these two learn how to be friends?"
I'm less certain, especially in the context of 'Monsters University'. It's hard to invest in the drama of it all, given a lack of obvious stakes. Luckily, the filmmakers toss in a few unexpected twists, and, of course, the whole universe is wonderfully developed. The characters are charming and empathetic and have respectable arcs. There are great lessons about hard work and pride and humility and teamwork. Heck, the movie seems to be improving with multiple viewings (lowered expectations?).
'Monsters University' is a fine family film.
It's also an incredible work of visual artistry and technical craftsmanship. You can tell hundreds of people poured their heart and souls into making the movie work as well as it does. It's a fantastic Blu-ray experience.
It's just... not 'Monsters, Inc.'
Truly, that's my only criticism here. On its own, 'Monsters University' works really well, though the underdog frat competition sub-genre is a little worn out (well, not for the target audience who won't graduate high school for another decade or so). And the film's third act makes some bold choices to make up for a predictable middle. But, stand 'University' next to 'Inc.' one of the best Pixar movies ever made (my second favorite, after 'UP'), it just doesn't compare. Sure, the graphics and textures and world building have come a long way, but 'Inc.' is so inventive and clever with more stakes and an emotional core that pulls the heart strings of even the most cynical viewers. 'University', despite many strengths, simply isn't able to rise out of its predecessor's shadow.
Vital Disc Stats: The 3-Disc Combo Pack Blu-ray
'Monsters University' arrives on home video in a variety of different editions:
- 3-Disc Combo Pack (2 Blu-ray + DVD)
- 3-Disc Collector's Edition (2 Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy)
- 4-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition (Blu-ray 3D + 2 Blu-rays + DVD + Digital Copy)
The Combo Pack is housed in a 3-Disc flapper case. Disc One the high definition version of the feature film. Trailers include 'Frozen', 'The Jungle Book' Diamond Edition, and 'Planes'. Disc Two contains all the HD Bonus Features (see below). Disc Three is a DVD copy. There is no Digital Copy or Blu-ray 3D with this edition.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
'Monsters University' scares its way onto Booooooo-ray with a wonderfully textured and colorful AVC MPEG-4 encode framed in the film's original 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio.
While I may personally prefer the 3D version, the film's 2D incarnation is another example of reference quality high definition. Colors are bright, bold, and vivid. Resolution and the sense of depth are exemplary. Contrast is incredibly dynamic, especially the gothic lighting inside the Scare School when we meet Dean Hardscrabble -- (this scene, along with the first Scare Games tunnel race, are really going to test some displays). Shadow detail is extraordinary; not only are black levels deep and inky, but the film's lighting palette is complex. The film's darker, less saturated third act is particularly impressive and pays a nice homage to the woods sequences in 'E.T.' Finally, there are no signs of banding, aliasing, macro-blocking or other encoding errors.
As I said in the 3D video review, Pixar movies truly set the standard for computer-generated animation. What always surprises me is how well they render various textures. From shiny metal busses to cobble stone sidewalks to rusty hand railings to grassy lawns to furry hides to scaly skin to sunlight reflecting off the water, the Pixar universe runs a fine line between cartoon and photo realistic.
Each new Pixar film floors me with new technical and artistic achievements. 'Monsters University' is a Blu-ray stunner.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
'Monsters University' roars onto Blu-ray with a wonderfully atmospheric 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.
'MU' certainly isn't as bombastic as the more action-oriented Pixar films, but this is an incredibly complex, dynamic, and precise mix. Starting with the dialog, everything is perfectly clear, and character voices are well placed around the front sound stage. LFE levels are generally subdued, until various moments (bigger monsters roaring, the heavy dance beat at frat parties) call for more of a presence. Randy Newman's collegiate score fills the entire room, uniting front and rear sound fields. Effects pan nicely and the filmmakers utilize the rear channels nicely to build out the world -- you really feel like the MU campus is an actual environment.
MU's 7.1 Dolby TrueHD sound mix recreates the theatrical experience perfectly. This is one of those soundtracks that gets better with volume -- enjoyable at all levels, but crank this one up and you'll discover more and more complexity. However, those looking for their next aggressive-bash-your-head-in demo probably won't find it here. Also, the only reason it's just-so-ever-shy of a full 5-star rating is because I've heard better from Pixar.
Other audio options include English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, English 2.0 Dolby Digital, English DVS Dolby Digital, Frech 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
All the 'Monsters University' Bonus Materials appear to be HD Exclusives (see below).
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
As Disney has done in the past, 'Monsters University' is jam packed with an extensive set of Bonus Features spread out across three Blu-rays. Here's what you will find:
Feature Blu-ray (2D)
- 'The Blue Umbrella' (HD, 6:46). The gorgeous short film that played with 'MU' theatrically.
- Audio Commentary. With Director Dan Scanlon, Producer Kori Rae, and Story Supervisor Kesley Mann.
- Campus Life (HD, 15:14). A day in the life of 'M.U'. Basically, what it's like to work at PIXAR and be in production on this film, from various department perspectives.
- Story School (HD, 8:38). How the filmmakers translate script into storyboards, which informs revisions and further boards. The first note the filmmakers received was "predictable."
- Scare Games (HD, 4:30). The Pixar filmmakers compete in a series of competitions inspired by the movie. If you haven't figured it out by now, Pixar is probably the greatest place on Earth to work.
- Monthropology (HD, 5:47). Director Dan Scanlon and his team talk about designing a variety of Monsters for the film.
- Welcome to MU (HD, 6:09). The filmmakers talk about what went into the designs of the MU campus.
- Music Appreciation (HD, 7:29). The symphony recording Randy Newman's score at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, CA.
- Scare Tactics (HD, 5:16). Much like the young Monsters in the film, the animators must learn to scare/act to help their animation process. Then, after a shot is animated, they bring it to "dailies" to get feedback from the whole team.
- Color and Light (HD, 5:16). One of the first drafts of the finished film (after a script is written) is a series of impressionistic paintings, almost like a children's book. This helps the filmmakers use lighting and color to help with structure and tone.
- Paths to PIXAR: MU Edition (HD, 7:40). How the various Pixar people came to work for the company.
- Furry Monsters: A Technical Retrospective (HD, 5:02). In 2001, 5 Monsters with fur was a huge technical challenge in making 'Monsters, Inc.'. In 2013, 'Monsters University' animated 250 characters with fur. This little doc takes us through what makes fur difficult.
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 22:04). After a Director Intro, there are four deleted scenes from earlier storyboard versions of the film. They are: Rivalry, Recon, Movie Night, and Drama Class.
- Promo Picks (HD). Some promotional materials from the film, divided into character bits, fake ads for Monsters University, and traditional trailers:
- Monsters Mash Up (4:01)
- College Campaign
- College Commercial (0:32)
- March Madness (0:27)
- Admissions (1:33)
- Theatrical Campaign
- Teaser Trailer (1:10)
- Back Then (2:25)
- One Night (1:10)
- Japan Trailer (2:23)
- Set Flythroughs (HD, 6:25). Explore the world of 'Monsters University' via extended, and seamless flythroughs of the following sets: The Campus, The Scare School, Frat Row, The OK House. This is simply stunning.
- Art Gallery (HD). This BD-Java enabled feature takes viewers through Characters, Color Keyes, Development Art, Environments, and Graphics.
'Monsters University' is an engaging and funny prequel that doesn't quite live up to the original 'Monsters, Inc.'. However, I found myself opening up to the film upon multiple viewings. There are tons of gags and references and details to enjoy, along with likable characters. Our readers who have young kids -- kids who didn't exist when the first film came out -- will no doubt have this movie on repeat for years to come.
As a Blu-ray, the 3-Disc Combo Pack includes a reference quality HD video, a terrific 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, and entire bonus Blu-ray of Special Features. If you want to own the 2D version of 'Monsters University' for the cheapest way possible, this is the version for you. If you care about owning an HD Digital Copy of the film, spend $5 more for the 3-Disc Collector's Edition, which includes everything listed above plus the Digital Copy. And for $5 more past that, you can pick up the 4-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition, which adds Blu-ray 3D.
- Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English Dolby TrueHD 7.1
- French Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
- Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
- English SDH, French, Spanish
- Campus Life
- Audio Commentary
- Deleted Scenes
- 'The Blue Umbrella' Animated Short
- Promo Picks
- College & Theatrical Campaigns
- Set Flythroughs
- Art Gallery
- Story School
- Scare Games
- Scare Tactics
- Welcome to MU
- Music Appreciation
- Color and Light
- Paths to Pixar
- Furry Monsters: A Technical Retrospective
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