31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 20 – Monsters University (2013)

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Director: Dan Scanlon

Cast: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren

Screenplay: Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird, Dan Scanlon

104 mins. Rated G.

 

Pixar sequels scare me. I wasn’t a big fan of Toy Story 2. I hated Cars 2. Toy Story 3 was great, but it felt like the exception that proved the rule. When Pixar announced that my favorite property Monsters, Inc. was getting a prequel, I was both shocked and intrigued by the concept. When I discovered that we would be seeing the story of Mike and Sully meeting in college, I was still very confused. Then, I saw it…

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In Monsters University, we get another look into the unique universe that Pixar created where monsters exist and get energy from the screams of children, where a young monster named Mike Wazowski (TV’s The Comedians, When Harry Met Sally…) experiences disapproval by his peers in his attempts to become a professional scarer. But he finds a new rival in fellow student Sully (John Goodman, TV’s Roseanne, The Gambler). When both students are kicked out of the scaring program, they decide to join Oozma Kappa, a failing fraternity, in an effort to win the Annual Scare Games and earn their way back into the scaring program, proving to their judgmental Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren, The Queen, Woman in Gold) that they have what it takes.

Pixar has great timing. Releasing Monsters University at a time when fans of the original film are entering the college portion of their lives is perfection, much in the same way they did with Toy Story 3 a few years previously. Great working of their audience.

The voicework here is phenomenal, getting great work from the veterans as well as new additions Helen Mirren and Nathan Fillion. Charlie Day absolutely steals his scenes.

"MONSTERS UNIVERSITY" (Pictured) SULLEY amongst other MU monsters. ©2013 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Monsters University is a perfect prequel, rarely feeling the need to fall back on referencing the original. For the most part, it blazes a new trail and knows it doesn’t have to embrace a cliché finale.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Pete Docter’s Monsters, Inc., click here.

Big Hero 6 (2014)

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Director: Don Hall, Chris Williams

Cast: Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, Maya Rudolph

Screenplay: Jordan Roberts, Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird

102 mins. Rated PG for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

After tragedy strikes and takes everything Hiro (Ryan Potter) thought he’d never lose, he befriends Baymax (Scott Adsit, TV’s 30 Rock, St. Vincent), a robotic caregiver built by his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Last Stand), and the two set out to find an invention of Hiro’s that has been stolen to be used for evil. Along the way, Hiro gets help from a ragtag group of nerdy geniuses that would soon come to be known as Big Hero 6 in the newest Disney animated feature from directors Don Hall and Chris Williams.

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Baymax is 2014’s answer to Frozen’s Olaf. He is a lovable and sweet companion who is challenged in his quest to heal others by Hiro’s wanting of vengeance against those who wronged him. Young Ryan Potter does great work as Hiro, and he gets great help from veteran voice workers like T.J. Miller (How to Train Your Dragon, Transformers: Age of Extinction) and Alan Tudyk (TV’s Suburgatory, I,Robot). I do wish the supporting characters weren’t just relegated to minimal development based around the tech they are currently working on, and I hope that if this becomes the first Marvel-Disney franchise that these superheroes are further developed. The world of San Fransokyo is pretty cool though, taking cues from anime masterpieces like Akira.

Big Hero 6 isn’t Frozen even at its best, though I am happy to see a Disney film willing to deal with death. Although I don’t think they should’ve danced around the subject so much, always referring to the deceased as “gone” when they should take the high route and understand that kids can handle it.

The visual style is neat and it presents a pretty great number of action set pieces for our heroes to defend their beloved city, and it just looks good.

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Big Hero 6 is one of the more enjoyable films of 2014, but it has a lull to it around the second act. Even though it is a Marvel property, it tends to borrow a bit too much from previous Marvel fare like Iron Man instead of drudging a new route. There is a fun post-credits scene, so wait around for that. Big Hero 6 should satisfy parental units as well as kids thought, which is a tough feat to make.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror: Day 3 – Monsters, Inc. (2001)

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Director: Pete Docter, David Silverman, Lee Unkrich

Cast: John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Mary Gibbs, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly

Screenplay: Andrew Stanton, Daniel Gerson

92 mins. Rated G.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Song “If I Didn’t Have You”
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature

iMDB Top 250: #215 (as of 7/14/2015)

I might get some trouble for reviewing a family film in the 31 Days of “Horror” category for the month of October, but I should stress. These posts are meant as a celebration of horror, and in that way, Monsters, Inc. is very fitting.

Pixar is a brand name all its own these days, about as recognizable as the name of its owner, Disney. Known for creating fully realized worlds that are capable of translating highly complex moral questions, Pixar is perhaps most well known to me for the creation of Monsters, Inc., a gorgeous little gem from 2001.

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It tells the story of James P. Sullivan or “Sully” (John Goodman, TV’s Roseanne, Transformers: Age of Extinction) and his roommate and best friend Mike Wazowski  (Billy Crystal, When Harry Met Sally…, Parental Guidance), two monsters existing in a world parallel to our own, in which their main source of power and energy comes from human children’s screams. It isn’t an easy job scaring the screams out of kids anymore, especially when a single touch could kill you. But when a child called Boo (Mary Gibbs, The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride) is found after hours in Monsters Incorporated, where Mike and Sully work, the two find themselves in quite a pickle trying to right the many wrongs and solve the mystery of why she is there. Mike and Sully have to discover while how fellow scarer Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi, TV’s Boardwalk Empire, Fargo) is involved, get the information to boss Henry J. Waternoose (James Coburn, The Great Escape, Snow Dogs), and avoid Mike’s girlfriend (for her own safety), Celia (Jennifer Tilly, TV’s Family Guy, Bound).

Monsters, Inc. is one of the best films in Pixar’s roster (my personal favorite, in fact). The voice work from Goodman and Crystal (who actually recorded lines together, a rarity in the voice work business) is phenomenal. The animation here is top notch for its time and still looks pretty good for being over thirteen years old. The pacing on the film is another major take-away. It never misses a beat.

Even the musical score just stays with you; this whole film does.

Enjoy watching this film if you haven’t already seen it; it plays with the mythos as well as pulling at the right heart strings, and it pours a couple dashes of The China Syndrome in for good measure.

Take a moment to enjoy some of the little in-jokes that Monsters, Inc. has to offer. Notice that Randall Boggs threatens to throw someone into a wood chipper (a fate he isn’t all too unfamiliar with himself from his work with the Coen brothers). Laugh at Mike’s chair during the employee theatrical performance of “Put That Thing Back Where It Came From or So Help Me” (it happens to resemble one Krang’s chair from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon).

The best little homage in-joke comes from the restaurant Harryhausen’s, which takes its name from Ray Harryhausen, famous stop-motion creature maker known for Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts. Also, when Harryhausen made the film It Came from Beneath the Sea, he only had the budget for a six-tentacled octopus, which appears as a chef in the restaurant named for him in Monsters, Inc. Isn’t learning fun?

Also, wait around during the credits for a list of Production Babies (a staple for Pixar, covering all the children born during production) and a notice proclaiming “No Monsters Were Harmed During the Making of this Film.”

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What a terrific film, I was so excited to revisit it for the 31 Days of Horror and I hope you will view it yourself, either for the first time or the 1000th.

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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