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Disney In Depth: Monsters University Blu-ray Review
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Brett Nachman   |  @   |  
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Monsters University Blu-ray

Monsters University
4-Disc Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital | 3-Disc Blu-ray/DVD/Digital | 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD l DVD l Instant
Directed by Dan Scanlon
Starring Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Nathan Fillion, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Charlie Day, Peter Sohn, Steve Buscemi, and Alfred Molina
Walt Disney Home Entertainment
Release Date: Oct. 29, 2013

It’s time to scare it up, my fellow geeks! Monsters University sees its home release, and surprisingly, the Blu-ray edition of Pixar’s latest feature is wicked good. Explore Monsters University with me, shall we?

James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) and Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) may have given the impression they were always best buddies in Monsters, Inc., but Monsters University proves just the opposite. Travel back in time with Sulley and Mikey to their young adulthood, when Sulley’s pomposity and Mike’s unabashed idealism contrasted with their older personalities. Mike craves to scare for a living, despite his less-than-menacing appearance, and must prove to naysayers that he belongs at the Scare School. He works ceaselessly to understand ways to haunt and chill. Sulley, on the other hand, thinks his family name and reputation will lead him on a road to success, but his egotism impairs his image and potential. The two must collaborate with the non-impressive Oozma Kappa fraternity to save their spots in the Scare School.

Upon first glance this may not seem like the most impressive storyline, considering Pixar’s standards of delivering innovative experiences from unique vantage points (rats, robots, and superheroes). But like the original Monsters, Inc., this prequel gives context to the nature of complex relationships. Mike and Sulley are akin to Buzz Lightyear and Woody in this respect. Whereas the bombastic blue monster and cocky cowboy start out as brash characters, the entrances of their more optimistic and misunderstood counterparts change the game. The evolving dynamic between Mike and Sulley in University, mirroring that of Buzz and Woody in the first Toy Story, shows how bonds form in the face of adversity. Buzz and Woody must survive in Sid’s Room. Mike and Sulley must win the Scare Games to remain in the special university program. See, similarities.

But parallelism does not always mean good results. Luckily, Monsters University succeeds on almost all fronts, as its endearing characters, stunning visuals and audio, moving and occasionally surprising storyline, and general “good feeling” vibe make this another feather in Pixar’s cap. While some could dispute that this prequel lacks the originality of Up or Finding Nemo, so to speak, I find Monsters University to have as much charm and cleverness as the studio’s best. This earlier Disney In Depth speaks to my passion for this film.

Presentation

“Awesome!” That is the word that will come out of your mouth when you see and hear Monsters University on this exquisite Blu-ray release. Disney-Pixar knows how to serve top-notch animated films in their storytelling, and thankfully this also applies to how they look and sound. The colors could not glisten more beautifully in this home release, everything clear, detailed and free of any identifiable issues. Similarly, the aural experience screams pristine. Listen to the Scare Games scenes, full of amazing action sequences and chants from the crowds, or even the subtler sounds from the initial classroom portions, for a taste of this high quality.

Bonus Features

Monsters University has a wealth of additional riveting content (around two hours’ worth on the second disc alone) that envelops viewers in the numerous aspects behind the Pixar film’s production. No questions asked, this is one of Disney’s best home releases, from a bonus feature standpoint, in recent years.

Disc 1 (featuring the film) boasts a few offerings.

The Blue Umbrella, the should-be-nominated-for-an-Oscar short from Pixar, recalls much of the magic of Disney’s own Academy Award-winning Paperman. The contemporary city setting finds two individuals who become enchanted with one another, but are unfortunately separated too soon. While these characters may be umbrellas, their emotions deem far from static. Easily Pixar’s smartest and most touching short since One Man Band, taking the concept of well-executed anthropomorphism and photorealism to new heights, I adore this umbrella story.

Audio Commentary features Dan Scanlon (Director), Kori Rae (Producer) and Kelsey Mann (Story Supervisor) covering the countless facets that factor into shaping Monsters University, from aging down the monster characters to developing various animation techniques. Like other Pixar commentaries, this takes viewers deeper into the story (a must-watch for those of us who have watched the films too many times) and accessibly covers the information to those unfamiliar with certain film lingo.

Disc 2 dives into almost every aspect of making Monsters University.

Campus Life follows various parts of the University production team through a “typical” day at Pixar. This is noted by employees dining at the cereal bar for breakfast or munching on lunch in their offices, performing scratch footage and testing the dropping of loads of stuffed animals on themselves (for a scene in the film). Though they experience daily challenges and exhaustion – many stay late into the night – these hard-working and fun-loving individuals pull through the difficulties to produce an excellent product.

Story School shows how story artists must translate a script into visual form. As the animators worked on University, they eventually shifted the focus from Sulley – who in the first film was the central character – to Mike, as he represented the emotional core in this prequel. This nine-minute featurette captures the collaboration process among animators, constantly re-working concepts, and genius jokes, to fit the movie.

Scare Games focuses on “Pixar (taking) its fun very seriously.” Nicole Grindle, associate producer, said this in describing how the team approaches working on their films. The Monsters University departments organized its own version of the “Scare Games,” so to speak, to build teamwork and camaraderie. Silly dodgeball and all. Watching these quirky challenges, such as Pixar employees riding tricycles down hallways, increase the many reasons why one would want to spend days at this fun-tastic workplace. Clearly their enthusiasm in playing these games translated to seeing the fun unfold on screen. Watch a clip below.

Monthropology details how the animators created the diverse set of monstrous forms found on the campus. Some fly, whereas others have tentacles or multiple heads. Each requires specific sets of motions and expressions according to design styles. Many are block-formatted, but a handful of monsters resemble slugs, albeit with different shapes, colors and visual features.

Welcome to MU greets viewers to the setting of the university, established in 1313. No joke. Pixar animators describe the intricate environment they crafted. The gate, with its eye motifs, beckons the students to explore the grounds, from the bird poop-marked statues to bulletin boards with layers of flyers. They really wanted to nail campus authenticity, but with a monster edge, hence the architecture featuring horns and teeth. Excellent execution, Pixar team!

Music Appreciation gives Randy Newman a chance to share with viewers a taste of the second recording session, held in the Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage at Sony Studios. The 106-piece orchestra, an impressive sight in its own right, provided the orchestration for Newman’s seventh feature for Pixar. The Oscar-winning songwriter, described as a “piano and pencil guy” who likes to hum, is known for making changes to the score at the last minute, and Scanlon said he effectively speaks the musical language. Absolutely.

Scare Tactics explains the context behind shaping scaring techniques, as well as describing animator terminology. Animators’ main challenge in this arena involved identifying different types of scares and then crafting that on screen. Scanlon explained how each animator’s varied strengths carried into the variety of characters’ actions.

Color and Light chronicles the color and lighting timeline, as animators needed to capture the emotion and mood of the scene through simply knowing the dialogue and script tone. What a challenge! The animators explain how when Mike and Sulley experience conflict, the lighting contrasts behind each of the characters to represent the tension. All of these little touches make a difference. The end result: perhaps Pixar’s best-looking film from a lighting viewpoint.

Monsters University character Mike Wazowski walks around campus

Paths to Pixar: MU Edition shares the stories behind the minds of the MU team. Their original aspirations, much like Mike Wazowski, may not have come to realization. But they found their way to Pixar, where their accomplishments speak for themselves. Art served as an outlet to release emotion and to discover new talents in the process. This featurette works on many levels, but perhaps most successfully in depicting realism, such as the dozens of rejection letters some current Pixar staff members received before gaining employment there.

Furry Monsters: A Technical Retrospective explains that most everyone has fur now. Over one decade ago, when Monsters, Inc. first premiered, only a few featured tons of hair, since it proved a massive technical challenge. Llamas’ coating influenced the team, as the animal’s hair includes some clumping. Though the jargon may seem scientific, the MU crew easily explains these technical concepts in an accessible manner to non-physics types.

Deleted Scenes include a handful of rejected portions that may not have been included in the final product, but show the progression of the story. Each includes an intro by Scanlon. “Rivalry,” depicted in storyboard form, shows Mike’s school-aged playground problems in meeting sullen Sulley. “Recon” failed to “move the story forward,” as Scanlon said, though this potential opening – which lets university students “fly” into the rooms of human children for observation – possesses much wit. “Movie Night” is an early version of the Oozma Kappa humiliation scene found in Monsters University, though this involves the gang being scared by the rival fraternity as opposed to having stuffed animals thrown on top of them. “Drama Class,” featuring several scenes, shows Mike and Sulley enrolling in a most theatrical course that entirely contrasts with their scare-driven personalities. This takes the prize for most hilarious, as the competing students scare up some big laughs.

Promo Picks features several components. “Monsters Mashup” includes a selection of short promotional pieces with the Scare School students pulling pranks and dancing. Very amusing stuff. “College Campaign” contains three brief ads that promote MU as if it actually existed in real life. “Theatrical Campaign” holds the standard trailers, both domestic and international.

Set Flythroughs give viewers four tours of the grounds of the intricately-detailed setpieces. The amount of detail is spellbinding, and the Pixar animators could not have executed these landscapes better. The soaring tours, set to thematically-rich background music, showcase MU. This institution looks more realistic and impressive than genuine universities.

Art Galleries allow viewers to peer through seemingly-endless sets of artwork that helped form the vision for Pixar’s fourteenth feature film. Hundreds of images can be viewed, so if you can set aside a few hours to explore these visuals, you’re in for a good time. The interactivity, highlighted by rating favorite pictures and incorporating music, supports this feature’s delight.

Film: A-
Presentation: A+
Bonus Features: A-

Overall Grade: A

Monsters University slug

You will roar with laughter and relish the Monsters University experience by bringing home the college-set Pixar entry. This comedy, truly one of the studios’ funniest, raises the amusement volume to new degrees in this tale of friendship during a period of self-discovery. Yes, a prequel may not have been necessary in expanding the Monsters world, but I am definitely happy this emerged. I better appreciate Mike and Sulley’s backgrounds through knowing this story, and more so, I value how Disney-Pixar perfectly presented this movie on Blu-ray. The Monsters University experience will make you wish you attended a place where slugs and sharp scarers existed side-by-side.

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.

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