Collegiate Creatures

June 29, 2013

Back to school with Mike and Sulley!

Movie Review: Un/natural terror and other classes in ‘Monsters University’

 By June 27, 2013 1:33pm

There are cartoons, and then there are animated features. The difference is measured in light years, as Sunday funnies are to the fancily-termed graphic novels.

“Monsters University”, the long-awaited prequel to 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.”, which was nominated for four Oscars (with a win for Best Original Song), firmly belongs to the canon of Disney/Pixar movies that isn’t just great entertainment fare for kids. Its depth and spirit possess the power of allegory that will hit adults right where they live.

“MU”, the prequel, is a story about ambition, talent, hard work, and the pains of being an outsider. It’s funny and thoughtful family entertainment.

Anybody who has tried too hard to be something he’s not built for and subvert both biology and expectation can relate to the story of the small but smart Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal), and the scary but dumb Sulley (John Goodman); their origin story of how they met and became buddies, before they became the dynamic duo of “Monsters Inc.”

But mostly it’s all about Mike and how he landed, unlikely cyclopean and rather funny-looking creature that he is, in the elite Scare Program of the titular MU.

It’s a simple enough narrative arc: Mike’s lifelong dreams of becoming a scarer are born when his elementary school field trip brings them to the Scaring Floor of Monsters Inc. This eventually finds him as a freshman at MU.

Like any new entrant, Mike thinks he’s in for the time of his life. Instead, he encounters the small town boy’s pining for acceptance in that great coming-of-age place that is college. It begins when he crosses paths with hotshot James P. Sullivan.

Terror, you see, is the main topic at the School of Scarers, and rightly so. The economy of the monster world is built on scream energy, and this is the proving ground for those who would stand outside the door to the rooms of the dreaded, toxic human children and dare the very real hazards within. And let’s not even talk about the adults.

Only the crème de la crème of monsters pass this program and, as Dean Hardscrabble (voiced by Helen Mirren, she truly is a Kali terror goddess among terrors) shows, scariness is the measure of any monster’s mettle.

If you’re not scary, then you can just join the art program. Ergo: what’s the point?

Mike is definitely NOT scary. He’s small, round, and all in all a pretty congenial creature. But he devoutly wants to be a scarer and he knows all the methods to get optimum frights out of any kind of kid with a phobia. It is exactly this WANTING that drives him to excel at MU. With his technical know-how, blue collar work ethic, and extreme desire, he’s confident he can become the greatest scarer in the world. Problem is, all that and his diminutive stature plants a big chip on his shoulder.

Meanwhile, Sulley is big, scary, and comes from a well-known family of scarers. His dad’s shadow looms ever large, but it also gives him a free pass for nearly anything. All that privilege also makes him lazy, arrogant, and expectant of entitlement. In other words: your garden variety rich, dirt bag jock. In the course of the movie we also learn that he’s not very patient, nor very smart. And I mean, at all. He hasn’t needed to be since people simply gave him what he wanted.

Like SEALs or Recon Marines, the wash out rate of the scare program is, unsurprisingly, astronomical. But those who do graduate are recruited into Monsters Inc’s ranks, feted with generous pay grades.

Read the rest of this REVEW. 

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