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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Monsters University

October 26th, 2013

Monsters University - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack or Blu-ray Collector's Edition or 3D Combo Pack

Monsters Inc. was a huge hit in 2001 earning close to $300 million domestically and more than $550 million worldwide. This summer, a prequel, Monsters University, came out and it earned a little less domestically, but more than $700 million worldwide. If you factor in inflation and the growth of international markets, this isn't as strong a run as the predecessor had, but still very profitable. Is the quality similar, i.e., not quite as strong as the original, but still worth checking out? And are any of the four releases worth picking up?

The Movie

The film begins many, many years ago with a young Mike Wazowski going on a field trip to Monsters, Inc. Mike is a small monster, so small that his classmates mostly ignore him. However, despite his size, he really wants to be a Scarer when he grows up. He's so desperate to prove to his classmates that he belongs there that he sneaks onto the scaring floor and manages to get through a door when no one is looking. When the workers on the Scaring Floor see him, they are at first horrified that an unauthorized person could get into a kid's room without anyone seeing. Then they are impressed that he got into the kid's room without anyone seeing him. One of the Scarers, "Frightening" Frank McCay, is so impressed that he gives Mike his Monsters University hat. With that, Mike is more determined than ever to become a Scarer.

The film flashes forward to Mike Wazowski all grown up, or at least as grown up as he is going to get. He is still a very small monster. It's his first day at Monsters University and he's as optimistic as ever. He's convinced he will become the best Scarer ever and as he tells his roommate, Randall Boggs, he's been waiting for this all of his life.

His optimism takes a bit of a hit the first day of class when Dean Hardscrabble tells the class that she's there to make great Scarers greater, so there will be a final exam and anyone who fails this exam is out of the program. This makes Mike even more determined to study hard, so he skips a Frat party. His studying is interrupted right away when a pig, of sorts, pops into his room through the window. It's there because James P. Sullivan stole it from Fear Tech, Monsters University's rival. He thought this was his room. Sulley, as he is known to his friends, comes from a long line of Scarers. He's a natural talent, which means he doesn't think he has to study. After a short introduction, Archie, the pig, grabs Mike's old Monsters University hat and runs off.

During the chase, Mike accidentally ruins Randall's chances at making friends, and while he catches the pig in a very cool way, it's Sulley who gets the credit and gets invited to the cool frat party at the Roar Omega Roar fraternity. The frat party is for members of the Scare School only, and even though Mike is a member, he's not invited. Sulley explains the party is only for Scare students who have a chance. Ouch.

This just gives Mike even more motivation to try harder and study harder. On the other hand, Sulley relies on natural ability and doesn't study at all. Their rivalry continues to grow throughout the semester, so much so that during the final exam, they have a person growl duel. This results in an accident that destroys a memento from Dean Hardscrabble's record-breaking Scarer career. She then decides to give the two a special test, failing both of them and leaving them stuck in the Scream-Can Design program.

Mike isn't willing to let this setback destroy his dreams, especially not after he remembers the Scare Games. Mike decides to join the Oozma Kappa fraternity and enter the Scare Games. He even makes a bet with Dean Hardscrabble that his team will win. If they do, they will all be allowed back into the Scare Program. If not, Mike has to leave Monsters University. There's just one problem, they are one member short. (Two of their members, Terry and Terri, are brothers who share a body, so they only count as one.) Sulley saves the day by joining; after all, it's his only way back into the Scare program as well.

Will the two be able to put their rivalry behind them and work together? Will Mike learn to trust his team?

Movies should thrive on their own, even sequels. That said, when it comes to sequels, one of the first questions that most people will ask is, "Is it as good as the original?" Just to get that out of the way: Is Monsters University as good as Monsters Inc.? Nope. Without Boo, the film is missing a lot of heart. It's not like the movie is heartless or there is no emotional core to the film. It's certainly still has a good amount of heart, as the beginning of the friendship between Mike and Sulley has a lot of heart on it own. Speaking of our two leads...

Monsters University has a lot of strong elements, including the great chemistry between the two stars, Billy Crystal and John Goodman. Because the movie is a prequel, you know where these two characters will end up, but these two bring them to life enough that it is still great to see the evolution of their friendship. The supporting cast is also a huge asset with plenty of fun characters in supporting roles from the misfit Oozma Kappa members, for instance. Helen Mirren is very menacing as Dean Hardscrabble. She's easily my favorite of the new characters. Even the practically unnamed characters like the Greek Council, played by Aubrey Plaza and Tyler Labine, bring a lot of laughs and energy. Or the Python Nu Kappa succubi. (I think they were succubi.)

The overall plot is well done, but there's not a lot new here. This film has a lot of elements from your average "Chasing your dreams" story and "Underdog" / "Jocks vs. Nerds" stories. They add a lot of jokes within this framework, but the overall story is predictable. Then again, it is a prequel, so you know where it is going to end. Also, I don't think the target audience has seen a lot of movies like Revenge of the Nerds or Up the Creek, so maybe they will be a little more surprised. There are also a few call backs to the original Monsters Inc. Not so many that it becomes repetitive, but enough to link to the movies in a fun way. Finally, I think the Big Scare was genuinely creepy. It might be too much for some younger kids. Although seeing it from Mike and Sulley's point of view might make a difference.

The Extras

Both the DVD and the Blu-ray Combo Pack have an audio commentary track and the short film, The Blue Umbrella. The commentary has Dan Scanlon, the director; Kori Rae, one of the producers; and Kelsey Mann, one of the story supervisors. Both extras are great and have strong replay value, but that's still not a lot of extras, so I would only rate these two as rentals.

The Collector's Edition Blu-ray and a 3D Combo Pack have a bonus disc loaded with extras, starting with a Campus Life, which is a 15-minute look at what it is like to work at Pixar. Story School is a 9-minute look at the evolution of the story throughout the process of making the movie. I really like these featurettes. (This isn't the first time there has been a featurette like this on a Pixar release.) Scare Games is a four-and-a-half minute long featurette on the games the Pixar staff played during the making of the movie. Monthropology is a six-minute featurette on the diversity of the monsters in the movie. After watching this featurette, I wanted to watch the movie again and focus on just the background monsters. Welcome to MU looks at the way Monsters University was designed. Music Appreciation is a seven-minute featurette on the music in the movie. Scare Tactics is a five-minute featurette on how scenes are animated, how the animators try many different things to get the scene just right. Color and Light is a five-minute featurette on the first visual look at the film, which is a very impressionistic painted color script. If you watch the featurettes in order, you've already seen a number of pictures from the color script. Paths to PIXAR: MU Edition is an eight-minute look at how some people didn't dream about being an animator, but they had a lot of paths towards their careers. I like this featurette, because it emphasizes one of the main messages in the movie. Furry Monsters: A Technical Retrospective looks at the technical difficulties animating a furry monster. Next up are five deleted scenes, plus a director's introduction, that have a total running time of 22 minutes. There are three Promo Picks, which are montages of short promos for the film. There are four Set Flythroughs, which are videos where you fly through the the sets used in the movies. Finally, there is an interactive art gallery.

There are no exclusive extras on the 3D disc. In fact, the audio commentary is absent. The 3D is very well done with an excellent use of depth without resorting to cheesy in-your-face moments. Additionally, the 3D version doesn't have a noticeable decrease in video quality, as the details and colors are just as strong as the 2D version.

Speaking of the technical presentation... It's perfect. Granted, it's a CG animated film, so it is a direct digital source, so it will obviously look amazing. The level of details is fantastic. The leap in technology from Monsters Inc. to Monsters University is incredible. I saw nothing wrong with the Blu-ray's video. The colors were vivid, the blacks were deep, but never swallowed details. The 7.1 audio was just as strong, for the most part. There are not as many action scenes in the movie as there are for a few Pixar movies, so the audio track is not as active, but it is still very immersive.

The DVD costs $18 on, while the Blu-ray costs $25. The Collector's Edition Blu-ray also costs just $25, making it the best deal. The 3D costs $35, which is a good deal if you have made the leap to 3D, especially if you haven't found many 3D releases you've liked since you've upgraded.

The Verdict

Monsters University is not the best Pixar movie ever made, but I think it is better than its Tomatometer Score. (I think at this point, if a Pixar film isn't an instant classic, some critics will give it a negative review, even if they would have given the film a positive review had it been made by another studio.) The DVD and the Blu-ray Combo Pack don't have enough extras to be worth picking up. However, the Blu-ray Collector's Edition is excellent value. Finally, the 3D Combo Pack is worth the money, if you have made the leap to 3D.

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Filed under: Video Review, Monsters University, Steve Buscemi, Billy Crystal, Dave Foley, John Goodman, Sean Hayes, John Krasinski, Tyler Labine, Helen Mirren, Kori Rae, Aubrey Plaza, Dan Scanlon, Noah Johnston, Beth Behrs, Kelsey Mann