Monsters University Blu-ray Review
There was a time when the famed animation studio Pixar shunned sequels, with the Toy Story franchise being a notable exception. In the past few years, however, things have changed – the studio has released Cars 2, and is currently prepping the long-rumored Finding Nemo sequel, Finding Dory. This past summer, the Monsters, Inc. prequel Monsters University was released, and so it seems that Pixar’s foray into sequels and spin-offs is far from over. Having never seen the original 2001 film, I was excited to check out the Monsters University Blu-ray and see for myself whether or not the film is strong enough to stand on its own.
Ever since he was a young monster, Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) has dreamed about becoming a Scarer – the best of which are trained at the acclaimed Monsters University. Shortly after arriving on campus, however, he realizes that there are many monsters that are just plain scarier that he could ever hope to be – including the cocky hotshot James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), who fraternities and teachers are gushing over due to his dad’s accomplishments. Mike has to study and practice hard to to keep his head above water, while Sullivan is able to blow off his homework and spend his days partying due to his family legacy. The pair engage in competitive one-upsmanship, leading to a heated rivalry and their eventual expulsion from the school. If they want to make things right, Mike and Sully will have to work together, alongside the hopelessly uncool members of the Oozma Kappa fraternity to win the Scare Games and impress the terrifying Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren).
While Monsters University may suffer from a bit of a predictable plot and some cliched story beats, it packs plenty of charm, some solid humor, incredible visuals, and an outstanding voice cast. Billy Crystal and John Goodman manage to ground the movie and give its underdog story about ambition real heart. The computer graphics are far beyond that of Monsters, Inc. – which is to be expected, as that film is now twelve years old. But even compared to animated films released in the last year, Monsters University is pretty much the cream of the crop, with fluid animations and expressions, a huge cast of colorful monster characters, and a world that truly feels alive and lived-in. The artistry behind the digital sets and background characters is truly something to behold – in fact there are multiple special features in the set detailing all of the work that went into creating the hundreds upon hundreds of “extras”, as well as the college campus itself, which looks almost human at first. Upon closer inspection, however, you’ll find coiled snakes, scales, eyeballs, spikes, and more fun touches layered into the school’s design. The soundtrack by Randy Newman is also very well suited to the film, and while none of the songs are quite memorable, they manage to add a collegiate feel to the film. The visual and audio quality of the Blu-ray transfer itself, with its 1080p AVC-encoded video and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 Surround audio, is reference quality – this is definitely a great film to show off your home theater system with.
There is a huge amount of special features on the Monsters University Blu-ray set – so much great material that it elevates the movie itself. Here’s a breakdown:
Campus Life: This is a really neat day-in-the-life mini documentary about the daily routines of various Pixar employees. Showcases the facility, their amazing cafeteria, the general workflow of how shots are pieced together through various departments, etc.
Story School: Talks about the challenges of creating a prequel, and the myriad plotlines and themes that were tested out and ultimately abandoned due to negative test audience reactions. In the original version of Monsters University, Sullivan was the main star (it showcased how he originally wanted to be a dentist), but the feeling was that his arc felt too forced. In the end, Pixar ended up changing the focus from Sully to Mike, which imbued the film with its underdog vibe. Also shows the giant roundtable meetings where writers rattle off a ton of jokes to see what gags and humor will stick – a very low amount of these ideas actually make it into the final film.
Scare Games: Showcases the crew bonding through their own version of the Scare Games, which pitted various departments against each other in games like dodgeball.
Welcome To MU: Takes a look at the artistry that went into every tiny little detail on the Monsters University campus.
Music Appreciation: Takes a look at Randy Newman’s creative process, as well as the recording sessions with college bands.
Scare Tactics: Shows how the digital animators filmed themselves to bring life to their CG creations.
Color and Light: Talks about the paintings that were done to visualize a scene before anything was rendered for Monsters University.
Paths to Pixar MU Edition: A really interesting look at the stories of some of the Pixar employees, who talk about the various career paths that didn’t work out for them, and how their winding paths eventually led them to the legendary animation studio.
Furry Monsters: A Technical Retrospective: Takes a look at the technical hurdles that the team encountered while creating the technology for Monsters, Inc., and how the simulations for realistic fur have vastly improved since then.
Deleted Scenes: I’m never really a fan of deleted scenes in these sort of animated films, since they’re always very bare bones – usually just storyboards with placeholder voice actors. Still, they’re presented here with at least the director introducing each scene and explaining why it was cut from the final version.
The Blue Umbrella: This is an interesting short film about a blue umbrella that runs into a red umbrella in the rain-soaked streets of a city. Parts of the city come to life to bring the two together. Upon first watching this, I figured it must be live-action fused with some CG elements. I was astonished to learn that this short is 100% photorealistic computer animation. Fantastic job on the visuals here, they had me completely fooled.
Additional Bonus Features: Audio Commentary, Promo Picks, College Campaign, Theatrical Campaign, Set Flythroughs, Art Gallery, more.