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June 25, 2013

Review: Disney-Pixar's 'Monsters University' earns passing grade

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"Monsters University," the prequel to the 2001 Disney-Pixar film "Monsters, Inc.", finally hit theaters this weekend. It seemed a long time coming because the promotion of this movie has been ongoing and seemingly omnipresent, especially for Orlando residents who frequent Walt Disney World. Perhaps that's why I had such high expectations for the movie. "Monsters University" is a fun family movie with a clever premise, detailed imagery and beloved characters. What it lacks, though, is the wit and drama of previous Pixar films -- and even last year's "Wreck-It Ralph" from Walt Disney Animation Studios.

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"Monsters University" tells the story of how Michael Wazowski ("Mike") and James P. Sullivan ("Sulley") met, as the title infers, when they were college students studying to become professional scarers. The pair have a not-so-friendly rivalry in their classes and social lives, but a series of events forces them to compete on the same team in order to have a chance of attaining their college degrees. Along the way, Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sulley (voiced by John Goodman) both learn lessons about teamwork, friendship and loyalty.

To be sure, Mike and Sulley appeal to a wide audience in this film. The large number of children in the theater where I saw the movie were engaged with the story, judging by their outspoken comments. And adults who have attended a university on a traditional campus will relate to the film plot's many typical college activities, such as getting a student ID, meeting a dorm roommate and pledging a Greek fraternity or sorority.

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Also, in "Monsters University," the animation -- clearly a key element on which Pixar Animation Studios has built its reputation -- is on par with other Pixar movies, such as the "Toy Story" franchise. The population of monsters is richly detailed and moves fluidly through the story. My family saw the film in 3D, and although those effects were well-executed, too, they were not integral to enjoying the movie.

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But the story here barely earns a passing grade. Though heart-warming, it is not as fast-paced or as humorous as films such as "Wreck-It Ralph," or even the original, "Monsters, Inc." The story line of this film just doesn't feel as compelling as Ralph saving Penelope or Mike and Sulley protecting Boo from the monster world, so it's more difficult to be emotionally invested in the outcome. Also, the jokes in the film aren't that funny. Today's parents -- and possibly other adults who enjoy animated movies -- have come to expect today's animated humor to be presented in layers, with some jokes appealing to kids and others aimed at the older viewers. That really doesn't happen in "Monsters University," which seems to draw its laughs by relying on some of the same themes we already saw in "Monsters Inc." From the human-child scream simulator to the Child Detection Agency squad to Mike's joy at seeing a badly shot photo of himself on his student ID, the punch lines come across as unoriginal and, unlike most Pixar productions, unsurprising.

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Overall, Director Dan Scanlon does give it the old college try with "Monsters University," but the product is not the A-plus work we've come to expect from Pixar. Still, families likely will enjoy this summer movie because it is fun to learn the back story of Mike and Sulley and to be transported to their world. And viewers who stay in their seats until the last credit rolls will be rewarded with "extra credit" (a final scene in the movie).

But if this film were a college class assignment, the letter grade might only be a C or B- at most. And if Monstropolis were relying on kids' laughter to energize the monster's world, it probably would be better served in showing a rerun of the original than a less-energized prequel.

May 28, 2013

My family's experience at Walt Disney World's Monstrous Summer All-Nighter

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How long could two kids and their parents last at the Magic Kingdom when the theme park was open 24 hours? We set out to find out Friday at the Monstrous Summer All-Nighter.

My husband and I are night owls, routinely staying up until 3 a.m. or later, so that was in our favor. However, both our 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter had a full day of school before we headed to the Magic Kingdom in the afternoon, so they were tired. But they were really excited about the event, so that adrenaline helped fuel their determination to stay awake.

When we arrived about 4:30 p.m., the Transportation and Ticket Center parking lot was already about two-thirds full. I wondered if the park would close because of capacity crowds at some point, but we continued to see folks arriving all night.

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Guests entering the park were given Monstrous Summer buttons and could collect a special Times Guide for the event. We headed straight into The Emporium to check out the event merchandise because I had hoped to get the kids' the All-Nighter T-shirts. Unfortunately, those only came in adult sizes and only the big sizes were left late in the afternoon. They were offered on DisneyStore.com for three days, though, so I ordered them online as we waited in attraction lines in the park.

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After that, we really didn't have an agenda -- just a loose plan of what we wanted to do, based on crowds. And, boy, were there crowds! The Magic Kingdom was jam-packed during the afternoon and evening hours for this special event, which fell on a Friday and the beginning of a holiday weekend. I'm told the crowds were much lighter when the park opened at 6 a.m. and through the morning hours.

We started off by riding the railroad to Adventureland to grab FastPasses for Splash Mountain for my husband and my daughter and to check out the new A Pirate's Adventure. (I'll have a review of that later this week.) Using the FastPass system definitely was key to getting on the popular rides without having hours-long waits. Still, we couldn't help but wish FastPasses were available all night. The system shut down by 1 a.m., and the crowds really didn't thin out until about 3 a.m. Consequently, Space Mountain and other popular rides still had long standby queues well after midnight.

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Earlier in the night, we had dinner at Columbia Harbour House, where just about every table was taken. I can't remember the last time I saw the counter-service restaurant so busy. From there, we let the kids decide which attractions they wanted to do. We took a break about 9:30 p.m. to have the special Monsters University-themed Eye Scream Sundaes at the Plaza Ice Cream Shop and watch the Wishes fireworks show.

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At that point we decided to get a double-stroller for my daughter and all our stuff. She hasn't ridden in a stroller for years, but we thought she would be the first to get tired and a ride for her might allow our son to stay longer. It was a good call, even for the $31 price tag. Then we headed out to experience more attractions. Shortly after midnight, we met up with Deb Koma and her son. (There were plenty of blog meets going on throughout the park, and AllEars.Net hosted one in the morning.)

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By 2 a.m., my kids had caught their second wind, much to my surprise, so we stopped by Disney's Up All Night Dance Party in front of Cinderella Castle and then got in the hour-long queue to meet Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse dressed in their pajamas. It was a long wait, but my son and daughter humored me. My daughter even changed into her own PJs for the photo.

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Afterward, the line for Space Mountain finally had dropped to 45-minutes so my husband and daughter joined the queue, while my son and I rode Peter Pan's Flight and The Haunted Mansion. Then, we all stopped by Cosmic Ray's for a breakfast sandwich and made our way out of the Magic Kingdom about 5 a.m. As we were leaving, guests were still coming into the park. We headed out, though, and pulled into our driveway east of Orlando at sunrise.

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Was it a crazy night? Absolutely. It was crowded in the park that night, many of the attraction lines were long, and the kids and husband got cranky at times as the hours wore on. But will my children remember the fun of being in the Magic Kingdom all night under the full moon and stars? You bet! That was a timeless memory that's worth a little missed sleep now for the magic they'll recall for years to come.


May 23, 2013

Disney Pixar's Monsters University inspires merchandise, eye-opening deals

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Fans of Disney Pixar's "Monsters, Inc." have less than a month until the prequel, "Monsters University," hits theaters on June 21. In the meantime, The Walt Disney Co. is kicking its promotion into high gear with lots of merchandise and eye-opening deals. Here is a look at the latest from Mike and Sully. (And, of course, AllEars will have team coverage of the Monstrous Summer All-Nighter at Walt Disney World and Disneyland on Friday. Stay tuned for our reports!)

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Monsters University Storybook Deluxe app

Disney Publishing has released a new app in its Storybook Deluxe series that is a companion to the upcoming prequel film. Like its counterparts, this animated storybook is interactive, offering kids the opportunity to participate in the story by touching the screen in various ways. They also can choose to read the story themselves or turn on narration.

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The app also includes the tools for each user to create his or her own Monsters University ID badge. Kids ages 6 to 10 are invited to take a photo of themselves with their mobile devices or select one already stored there and then "Monsterify" it by adding various effects for eyes, ears, horns and more. That never gets old! There also are five games, but they all work on the same principle: The player must dodge objects on his or her journey to the simulator kid, who must be made to scream.

As I've written before, I think the Disney storybook apps are great portable tools for young readers and Disney fans. On this app, I wish there were more variety in the games, but the badge option is pretty entertaining. Monsters University Storybook Deluxe sells for $6.99 in the iTunes App Store for the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad Mini.

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Monsters University soundtrack

The "Monsters University" soundtrack is set to be released on June 18 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.com for $14.99. The 20-song CD features an original score composed and conducted by Randy Newman, who recently was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Disney Visa Card members can claim a special deal through June 17 -- pre-order a download of the "Monsters University" soundtrack for just $7.99 with their credit cards. The deal is good after the release date, too, through July 31.

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Monsters University movie tickets

Disney Movie Rewards members who purchase specific Disney-Pixar DVDs can earn free vouchers for admission to "Monsters University." Members must purchase "Monsters, Inc." 5-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition; "Monsters, Inc." 3-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack; or "Monsters, Inc." 3-Disc DVD Combo pack to earn a $10 voucher. The "Monsters, Inc." and "Finding Nemo" DVDs are worth $8 movie tickets when the codes are entered disneymovierewards.com. This offer is valid through July 31.

You also can earn free movie tickets for Monsters University from Kellogg's. Find codes printed inside specially marked cereals and enter them on the Kellogg's Family Rewards website. It takes 6 codes to earn one e-Movie Cash ticket good for a Disney movie. Participating cereals include Krave, Mini-Wheats, Rice Krispies, Apple Jacks, Crunchy Nuts, Corn Pops, Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops and Crispix.

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Monsters University Sweepstakes

There's still time to enter the Monsters University Sweepstakes, which will award a grand-prize trip for six people to Walt Disney World. The vacation includes roundtrip airfare, a stay at Art of Animation resort, 5-Day Magic Your Way Tickets with Park Hopper, a VIP tour guide for a day and a $650 Disney Store gift card. First prize is a $1,000 Disney gift card.

This sweepstakes is open to Disney Movie Rewards members age 13 and older and ends June 2. Members may enter once for free and then up to 99 additional times by redeeming DMR points or by mailing a 3.5 x 5 postcard with the appropriate information for each entry. (See website for official rules.)

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About Monsters University

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the Monsters University category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Monkey Kingdom is the previous category.

Muppets Most Wanted is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.