Monsters University (2013)

Monster University (2013)

School and university… they’re formative institutions for many people. You get an education, make friends, and the more liberally-inclined would say they “find out who they really are”. I guess it’s a better place to “find yourself” than on a beach in Thailand though, which is where so many middle class 21 year olds from the UK will tell you. Seeing films set in universities or schools is nothing new; it’s been done time and time again. I think Hollywood actually gave me an impression of what to expect from university: girls, beer and hijinks. Not all of it came true, and I never saw a single red cup at a house party. That seems to be very US-centric… thanks for that American Pie! But the current film doesn’t bring up beer… it’s a kids’ film after all. But it does (scratch on) girls and hijinks… Yes, Monsters University has rolled onto campus, but is it the class clown or is it going to graduate magna cum laude?

Monster University (2013)

First… can I just dwell on the title? Does it bug anyone else that it doesn’t have an apostrophe in there? Shouldn’t it be Monsters’ University? I guess I can let it slip though, and someone will probably enlighten me as to why it shouldn’t be in there. I’m sure they wouldn’t have let that slip! Anyway, Monsters University is the prequel to 2001’s hugely successful Monsters Inc. – yes, that’s a 12 year gap between instalments in the series. Luckily, Disney Pixar have a great DVD / streaming market, because the target audience this film is aimed at is far too young to even have been alive when the first film came out. I’m not sure why there was such a delay in this happening!

Thankfully though, we see the original cast return: namely John Goodman as the voice of Sully (big, blue and furry) and Billy Crystal as Mike (small, green and eyeball-y), plus a whole host of other favourites that fans will recognise from Monsters Inc. Essentially, Monsters University goes back to Uni (who’d have guessed that?!), where Mike is the geeky try-hard student of scaring, who isn’t actually scary, whilst Sully is the cocky, “I don’t need to learn” type that is scary… but can’t apply himself. Mike and Sully turn into rivals, but are kicked out of university… the only way they can get back? To join the house of OK (Oozma Kappa) – a group of monsters that are going no-where. They’re the outcasts – the bottom rung of society. Only by joining OK can they enter the Scare Games… their one chance to get back into their course… but can they work together?

Monster University (2013)

So, you can probably figure out how the plot’s going to play out, as it’s a bit contrived and obvious. But as is the case with so many movies aimed at the younger demographic, that’s to be expected. What’s also expected in these types of movies is humour – both for the kids and for the adults in the audience. This is what’s made Pixar such a gold standard over the past two decades… but Monsters University doesn’t quite hit all the high notes it should do in this regard. The screening I was in had the perfect split of kids and older audience members, but laughter was at a bare minimum… from both demographics. Normally, I’d expect the children to be laughing at this type of movie, but you can only imagine that some of the laughs were lost owing to the setting for the movie: university. No pre-teen kid will have much of an idea of what university entails. It’d have been wiser to set this Monsters instalment in school – a concept that could be latched upon by kids and adults.

Then again, the university setting didn’t elicit copious laughs from the older audience either. In all honesty, the script just wasn’t that funny. Endearing? Yes. Funny? No. I don’t expect belly laughs, but I do expect a wry smile to creep over my face quite frequently, but it was sadly lacking. Don’t get me wrong here – I enjoyed the movie and the runtime evaporated in no time, but I didn’t get the series of laughs that I was expecting from a movie like this.

Monster University (2013)

What I did enjoy were the gorgeous visuals we’ve come to expect and the colourful supporting cast that rounded out the Monsters University world. It all came together well and made the world “pop” – something that Pixar has always been quite adept at achieving. As previously stated, the plot was quite formulaic and the laughs weren’t ten-a-penny, but the film itself? A success… even if it wasn’t quite the big bombastic return of Sully and Mike that I was expecting.

Monsters University enriches the world set forth in Monsters Inc. and contains a lot of fan service in terms of cameos and “origin stories”. Whilst it seemed to miss the mark with the audience I was viewing with, it nevertheless maintained a fun, upbeat vibe that had me compelled from beginning to end. It may not be Pixar’s finest film to date, but it’s another solid entry in their catalogue. Besides, sometimes it’s just good to spend time with old friends yet again. So long as they’re not Cars… or Planes

So whilst Monsters University isn’t a new American Pie 2 in the way it portrays university, it hits a lot of the right notes. Sure, we have no beer pong, no foul language and no sex with pies, but we get the right vibe from it all. Although having said that, I’d like to have seen how the characters would have coped if you’d merged the two aforementioned franchises. Would Stifler pick on little Mike? Would Sully assume the role of Oz the star lacrosse player? And just how would the film deal with the thorny issue of “exotic” magazines? Stay tuned for Monsters Go Wild

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

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Parental Guidance (2012)

Parental Guidance (2012)

I can’t quite pinpoint the point in my life where I started to feel alienated from those that are younger than me. The turning point where I thought “I was never like that at your age” or “I swear kids weren’t getting pregnant at that age in my day”. Don’t misinterpret that for me being an old, miserable Phage; I’m actually relatively young – spawned in the mid-80’s. But I still wonder what the hell the kids are drinking nowadays to make them behave so oddly. Or maybe I’m just jaded I didn’t behave so recklessly back in my youth. It’s a peculiar thing that happens to everyone when they hit their mid-twenties – they start to relate more to those older than them, than those in their teenage years. This is despite the fact that you’ve obviously been a teenager by this point, but you’ve never been a 30 year old. Odd isn’t it? Well, these inter-generational relationships are the subject of Parental Guidance – a film spanning three generations. But is it lovable like someone else your age, or as irritating as a 18 year old know-it-all that “really discovered who they were” on a beach in Thailand?

Parental Guidance (2012)

Parental Guidance is a good old-fashioned family comedy starring Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as Artie and Diane Decker – two grandparents that are somewhat ostracised by their child owing to their quirkiness. But they’re called upon by their daughter, Alice (Marisa Tomei) to look after their three grandchildren whilst she goes for a few days away with her husband. The problem? Artie and Diane are old school parents, whilst Alice and her husband are more new age (e.g. never say “no”, say “wouldn’t you rather” – a more gently, gently approach). Just how will the family cope?! Yes, yes, it’s all very formulaic and lightweight, but that’s pretty much the point. Obvious comparisons would be to Cheaper by the Dozen and films of its ilk, but they’d be misplaced, because this film isn’t a train wreck.

Parental Guidance (2012)

This is essentially a platform for Billy Crystal to be Billy Crystal. For some, that’ll sound like torment, but to others it’ll sound like heaven. Me? Well, I’ve never really been exposed to many of his movies / appearances on TV – it seems you guys in the US get a lot more of him than we do. For this reason, I thought Crystal was genuinely funny. Sure, some of the jokes were very wide of the mark, but the ones that landed on target made me chuckle. Not guffaw and fall about the aisles, but chuckle nevertheless. Similarly, Bette Midler has been given some great lines too – one exchange between her and a very demanding Russian violin teacher was particularly memorable.

What of the rest of the cast? Well, they’re all serviceable, but as I say – this is a Crystal and Midler vehicle and not much else. They’re just there. I’m well aware that Marisa Tomei can really pull off great roles (The Wrestler for instance), but she was somewhat underutilised here – the part could have been played by any actress really. Similarly, the three children are nothing too remarkable, but their performances never seemed hackneyed or weak. They’re just not Pierce Gagnon. Yes, I can pretty much manage to shoehorn Tom Hardy or Pierce Gagnon into the vast majority of my reviews.

Parental Guidance (2012)

In terms of plot development, you know you’re not going to get some astronomically complex plot. This is a “U” certificate after all – a true family film. Everything is relatively linear and you can foresee the ending before the film even begins, but I don’t think that’s the point. The emphasis is on the┬ádichotomy of parenting styles – old school grandparents vs. new age parents. And I enjoyed that. You see, I’m much more an advocate of the straight-talking method used by Crystal and I could relate to his qualms with the gently, gently approach used by his daughter.

Other reviewers have used a lot of “sch-” prefixed words to describe the film, which I’m not entirely in agreement with. Sure, it’s sweet and sometimes very sentimental, but it’s done well. It carries a message that we can all relate to: we get older and things change. In my screening there were a variety of ages – the parents and grandparents were laughing, but so too were the children. Although the youngsters were more amused by a supersoaker to the groin than Crystal‘s off-the-cuff remarks about life. I can’t say I’ll be recommending the movie to all and sundry, but if you’re in need of a holiday film to entertain the family then you could probably do far worse than Parental Guidance.

Whilst Parental Guidance isn’t a family classic, it is an enjoyable film. It doesn’t outstay its welcome and delivers what you’d expect: an all-around enjoyable family film. If you’ve not been saturated by Crystal in the past then you’ll find much to like here. It’s unlikely to become a film you’ll love and cherish, but nor is it as tacky and obvious as Cheaper by the Dozen and other films that deal with grandparents looking after children. Crystal himself summed up Parental Guidance as a “Home Alone for grandparents”. And you know what? I think he’s about right.

Maybe my enjoyment of this movie is testament to my cynicism about Generation whatever-letter-we’re-on-now. Maybe I’m prematurely long in the tooth. And maybe I’m tainted by my own lack of kids. But for whatever reason, I enjoyed Parental Guidance a good deal. Don’t be led by the opinions of others who’d probably dissuade you from seeing this if you’re on the fence about it. After all, would you listen to the “life advice” of the aforementioned 18 year old who’s just returned from that one week sojourn in Thailand where they got in touch with their inner goddess? When in fact they were just dancing on a beach whilst drinking screwdrivers out of a plastic bag? Yes? No? Well, I guess it all depends on your age… Much like your enjoyment of this film.

Phage Factor:

3 Star