Monday, July 15, 2013

it's monster time!


So I went to see Monsters University. I've always been a fan of Pixar (which quite unsettles me, you know, liking something everybody likes, and especially something out of Steve Jobs' mind), both because of the technical achievements these guys have been capable of and for the amount of emotional power their films carry. Pixar's movies are often funny and engaging, but also really emotional and relatable for those who, like me, have been through some harder stuff emotion-wise. Finding Nemo is the movie I consider the most heartfelt of all, and movie that everybody with a complicated relationship with their father should watch. It almost makes me cry (which used to be a hard thing, but now seems to be the easiest of things - I've become a cry baby).

Yet I'll admit I was wary. I don't much care for sequels or prequels (and one look at the posters in you local theatre will tell you that Hollywood feels different about this issue), and the college setting didn't make me feel any more at ease. College movies are really difficult to pull off in any way that could be considered serious - and I wasn't expecting a masterpiece, mind you, but I did have some hopes about this movie and they didn't fit an Kappa Sigma Phi scenario (by the way, Americans have no idea how different/weird their college system seems to the rest of the world, at least this side of the hemisphere. I can't say it made the movie more difficult to understand for me, as I've been experiencing American culture since I was six or seven, but I'm sure non-American kids will have some struggle to understand the movie's context and events. Also on that note, I had to watch the movie in Portuguese as no Brazilian theatre would think of showing a kid's movie in English. I believe it detracted a little from my experience, but I hope it wasn't too much. I'll be sure to watch it in English later).

Anyway, I arrived a little late for reasons related to long lines at the popcorn stand, so I missed a bit from the initial shot film about two umbrellas in love or something (it made me think of the 1954 Disney short "Johny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet", though that one was admittedly sadder and even sorta violent/scary, something moviegoers of today would not stand for). And then the movie started, and I went from entertained to engrossed, then almost disappointed for I thought the movie had fallen into a cliche, to completely surprised and exited. How exactly is this movie for kids, I don't know, but I loved it and I encourage everyone to see it. I should warn you that from this point on I'll discuss plot points (also called spoilers) of the movie and you should not read on if don't want to find out what happens (I had complaints on previous texts for not issuing such warnings so you've been warned. Run fast!).

The movie starts with a lovely kid version of Mike Wazowski, predictably a misfit amongst his schoolmates, visiting the Monsters Inc. factory and falling in love with scaring. He decides to become a scarer and, after graduating, goes off to Monsters University, in which he hopes to learn everything needed to become one. The first twist in the movie (albeit one that whoever saw the trailers was already expecting) is that Mike and Sully are not friends; in fact, when they first meet, Mike despises Sully as he is the son a famous scarer and is himself a naturally scary monster. Sully, on the other hand, sees Mike as a nerd with no hopes of becoming a scarer. This was smart because it instantly set a goal for the movie: Mike and Sully have to become friends at some point. How will they do so?

While Sully grows popular and joins the University's most cool house, Mike studies and gets top grades. These two sides of the spectrum are banded together when both are expelled from the scare program after a mix up with the University's principal, voiced by Hellen Mirren (which really makes me regret not having seen it in English). They get, predictably, a chance to go back if they win the Scare Games (which I daresay is a play on the Hunger Games, with the exception that the team that loses a round is simply eliminated, not killed), and, they, predictably, have to form a team with the Univeristy's losers, the members of Oozma Kappa. Then they, predictably, work together as a team and, predictably, win the games. This whole portion of the movie is pulled off only because it's very funny, especially with the help of Art, the funniest and most lovable member of Oozma Kappa (who seems to be perpetually high, but this being a kids movie, we'll just call him cuckoo), but one cannot the shake the feeling of having seen such scenario countless times before.

Then, just after the team's big win and the sedimentation of Mike and Sully's friendship, with all the "be true to yourself", "if you can dream it you can do it" feelings, comes  the big twist. (Again, stop reading now if you haven't seen the movie and you don't want to know what happens). They didn't win. Sully, who has come to accept that Mike isn't scary enough and will never be, cheated for the team to win. They all find out and no one, chief amongst them Mike, forgives him. The movie does something no movie for kids, specially a movie out of the "dream upon a star" Disney team, has ever dared to do, which is to say: "Shit happens. Not all dreams come true. Sometimes, no matter how much you want something, you just can't have it. You should focus on what you are good at, not what you want to be" (and I'm not saying I necessarely agree with this sentiment, though in this case I do). Every character in the movie but Mike can see he is smart and funny, but not scary (and, having seen the original, we know Mike eventually will revolutionise the business by making kids laugh, not cry, eventually becoming the "scarer" he dreams of being). Then the movie takes this to a new level by not reinstating Sully and Mike in the program and making them get into Monsters Inc. as mail boys, only to slowly climb their way up the corporate ladder to the scarer program. That's right, Sully and Mike are successful professionals without college degrees. What sort of message is that for kids, I don't know, but I applaud the filmmakers for making the hard choices and telling a story that strays away from Hollywood's path of green tiles and veers more closely to real life scenarios. Perhaps this sort of film reflects how audiences have matured over time, and we are now ready to take discussions to a whole new level. Or it may lead to mobs of angry parents banning the movie in schools. Only time will tell.

It is interesting to note that, in spite of being seemingly being a movie about friendship, it isn't. As I said earlier, the movie has a goal, to make Sully and Mike become friends, but what sort of goal is that, when, after all, we know they will become friends anyway. And the way they do is not the most interesting one. How many times have we seen the popular kid and the nerd forced to work together and learn from each other due to unusual circumstances?

To me, the goal of this movie was actually quite another: to make Mike become a scarer, and that was interesting because we knew he wouldn't. So it is a goal in which the movie kind of fails, but in the process, teaches the character a lesson about life, effectively making Mike the main character and Sully the sidekick. It was an interesting path to take, again defying the viewer's expectations.

Also, I would like to comment a very interesting scene in which Mike and Sully scare a group of adults. For a franchise (we can call it franchise if it's more than one movie, right?) that's all about scare, the original movie never went beyond monsters screaming and trying to be scary. But Mike and Sully set up a scenario that checks every box of the modern horror movie (the wind, the talking doll, the unexplainable noises). It never occurred to me that this movie should ponder on what makes people scared, but it does, treating the subject as a science; how people's previous experiences and their personal phobias all come into play when someone's trying to scare them. It makes you ponder on the nature of fear, which for a kid's movie, is a real feat.

So albeit it could considered controversial for the aforementioned "dropouts" bit, this movie is really funny (Mike and Sully shouting at each other with swollen faces is my favourite part) and emotional, and a real joy to see script-wise, aside from a another technical success (maybe you won't notice, but the Pixar team reinvented lightning and shadows - where they previously had to be drawn in every frame, now they are natural; the artificial light in every scene acts like natural light and creates natural shadows, taking away the task of having to manually do it in every frame and creating an impressive piece of software). I say definitely go see it.

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