Monsters University 3D – Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray Review
Great prequel story.
Great voice acting
Excellent collection of extras
Lacks the charm of the original.
There have been enough “college movies” released over the years that they have somehow evolved into their own genre; or at least their own Netflix category. The crazy antics in movies like Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, Back to School, Road Trip, Old School, and Van Wilder have probably been responsible for more kids wanting to go to college than all the combined efforts of high school guidance counselors. And then you have Mike Wazowski’s (Billy Crystal), an impressionable young monster who wants nothing more than to be a “scarer” when he grows up; a dream that takes permanent root after a school fieldtrip to Monsters Inc. where he gets to witness a real scarer doing his dream job. The resulting look of joyful revelation on Mike’s one-eyed face speaks volumes; and as noted in the bonus extras, took considerable time to achieve, but certainly sells the plot point that Mike’s destiny lies in the scaring business.
Monsters University then kicks off into the open credits which quickly chronicles all the effort Mike puts into his dream, studying hard, getting good grades, all leading to the day when the bus pulls up and drops him off at the gates to Monsters University. With oversized luggage and life-plan checklist in hand, Mike ventures into the brave new world of college. Pixar does a magnificent job of not only creating the look of an actual college campus, but actually populating it with believable student monsters doing actual first-day-on-campus activities. It might take multiple viewings to actually appreciate all the detail that is taking place in the backgrounds of some of these scenes than can often have up to 200 creatures in them, but this isn’t a movie you just watch once.
Being a prequel, director, Dan Scanlon had his work cut out for him trying to tell a story in which viewers of the original film already know the outcome for many of the characters. We know Mike ultimately won’t be a scarer, but it is endless fun and even inspiring to watch his determination and dedication in trying to achieve his dream. Early in the film we meet Randy (Steve Buscemi); the geeky chameleon who is polar opposite to what we know from Monsters Inc., and even though he only appears in a few scenes we get to witness a surprisingly full character arc that explains his rivalry with Sully in the first film.
And how about James P. “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman). Much like the traditional jock/jerk in other college films, Sulley bursts into the film with all the swagger of an entitled legacy. He comes from a long line of scarers, which undoubtedly puts a lot of pressure on the teenage monster. Scaring comes easy when you are big, hairy, and have a mouth full of fangs, so while C-student Sulley is out pulling pranks like stealing the rival college’s mascot, Mike is hard at work just trying to get by. But when both of them fail their final exam and are tossed out of Scare School Mike must formulate a new plan to make his dream come true – the Scare Games.
The Scare Games reminded me of the homecoming events in Revenge of the Nerds with just as high of stakes. In Nerds the misfit fraternity was trying to secure a place on the Greek Council. In Monsters U winning the games means that Mike and Sulley will be reinstated back into the Scare School. A sizeable portion of the second and third acts deal with the various games, the hilarious methods the Ozzma Kappas use to stay in them, but also manages to work in a few tangent story arcs for Sulley and Mike.
Scanlon and his team surround Mike and Sulley with an eclectic collection of adorably monsters, most all of which fit some traditional stereotype from the established college movie genre. Johnny J. Worthington III (Nathan Fillion) is your traditional “cool-guy-frat-jerk” with popped collar and annoying superiority complex. Sadly, the audience can see through his duplicity much easier than Mike and his fraternal misfits who are subject to the ultimate humiliation during a frat party. Hellen Mirren plays the formidable Dean Hardscrabble, whose mere presence in the classroom can send uncomfortable shivers through even the scariest monsters spine.
Since we already know the outcome, Monsters University is more a tale of “how did it all happen”, and Pixar does a great job of keeping you guessing right up until the very end. It would have been all too easy to have Mike and Sulley be friends from day one, but by putting these two characters at odds, we get a much more engaging story with a much wider character arc. I do have to wonder though, just who is the target audience for these movies. Teens, college students, and adults will all be able to appreciate the college humor buried throughout the film, but I’m guessing a lot of this material will fly right over the heads of grade school children. In some ways I almost wish they had created Monsters Elementary and actual worked from the line in the original movie where they clearly state that Mike and Sulley met in the fourth grade. For better or worse, Monsters University asks us to overlook that bit of information.
Monsters University continues to prove that Pixar not only makes the best animated features in the industry, but Disney produces the best Blu-ray’s on the market. The transfers for both the AVC 2D and MVC 3D discs are impeccable. The first jaw dropping moment is when the bus pulls up to drop Mike off for college. It looks like real video. The textures, the lighting, the world design; it’s all beyond words, and you just have to sink yourself into this movie experience. While Monsters Inc. was mostly all indoors, Monsters University takes place mostly outdoors, giving the artists a much greater pallet to work with when creating a believable campus that not only looks functional, but also is designed and textured to have its own historical past, both in the grand design of the architecture and all of those subtle interior details. The 3D was flawless with no obvious ghosting, crosstalk, or aliasing issues, and once again I must declare this the best quality release in the Disney/Pixar franchise…until their next one.
The single best way to sell the fact that you are on a college campus is to put in some music with a drum line. While Randy Newman’s score is once again flawless in its execution of emphasizing key moments by manipulating our emotions, the addition of college drummers to his orchestra was pure genius. But the music is just part of Monsters University’s epic Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix that quite literally surrounds you in all the audible nuances of college life. Dialogue is perfectly prioritized to the front with smooth panning effects across all the other channels, and some surprisingly powerful LFE that had by subwoofer working overtime.
The 4-disc Monsters University: Ultimate Collector’s Edition is loaded with extras including both 2D and 3D versions of the film, a standard DVD copy, a separate disc to hold all the bonus materials, and a digital download code so you can enjoy this movie on your PC, tablet or phone. Nearly all of the bonus features are on the third disc, but you can view the Pixar short film, Blue Umbrella, in either 2D or 3D depending on which disc you are watching. The 2D version of the film is also home to a fantastic commentary with director/co-writer Dan Scanlon, producer Kori Rae and story supervisor Kelsey Mann who engage listeners with delightfully behind-the-scenes info for the duration of the film.
You might want to make a fresh batch of popcorn before loading that third disc that contains a wealth of information on both Pixar as a company and the various challenges of making this particular film. Make sure you are perfectly satisfied with your own life before watching some of these features, as there is nothing more depressing than watching 250 people who have all achieved their dream jobs working for the best company on the planet if you can’t say the same. In Campus Life you spend an entire work day with Scanlon from his morning commute to lights out in the office. His 12+ hour day is neatly compressed into a 15 minute feature that still left me exhausted. There are several other relatively short features that cover the various aspects of life at Pixar and the film; Story School, Scare Games, Welcome to MU, Monthropology, Music Appreciation, Scare Tactics, Color and Light, and Furry Monsters: A Technical Retrospective. These range from 5-10 minutes and are as informative as they are entertaining.
Paths to Pixar: MU Edition showcases a few of the talented people working at Pixar, and their struggle to get there. It’s easy to see they had the same dream and determination as Mike had in the movie. There are four deleted scenes totaling 22 minutes, a nice collection of Promo Picks for all the various trailers and ad campaigns, and a massive Art Gallery divided into five sections, but my favorite extra in this final batch had to be the Set Flythroughs where a virtual camera takes you on a four spiraling tours of the campus and its surrounding areas. With no monsters to distract you, you can finally appreciate all the subtle work that went into designing and texturing this amazing virtual world.
As with most Pixar films, Monsters University seems to get better with each subsequent viewing, and while I’m not entirely clear on their target audience anymore, you cannot deny the appeal of these characters to both kids and adults and the great message of dedication and following your dreams to achieve your goals in life. Monsters University is technical perfection and a great family-friendly film that is a must-have addition for every Blu-ray collection.