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Monsters University

With last year’s middling, but still solid, “Brave” and 2011’s “Cars 2,” the only movie ever to receive negative reviews from the otherwise untouchable Pixar, people began to question whether or not the animation studio had lost its edge. Their warm, emotional and downright brilliant movies like “Up,” “Wall-E” and the “Toy Story” franchise had devolved into kiddie fare (as opposed to the family friendly movies that had come before and were accessible to everyone) with simplistic themes and unimpressive stories. Well, it looks like they’re back on track with “Monsters University,” a wholeheartedly impressive movie that takes a subject from the wonders of a child’s imagination and injects it with a truthful examination on failed dreams and the meaning of friendship.

The movie begins with Young Mike (Noah Johnston). He’s a happy-go-lucky kid with a wonderfully positive attitude despite his classmates’ negativity towards him. While on a field trip to Monsters Inc., the company responsible for scaring children and powering the monster world with their screams, he finds his calling. He’s going to be the greatest scarer that ever lived. Now he’s all grown up and Mike (Billy Crystal) is headed off to college at Monsters University. His entire life has led up to this moment and nothing will stand in the way of him achieving his dream. However, when it’s decided he’s just simply not scary, he’s taken out of Scare School along with the unfocused Sully (John Goodman). But his determination won’t keep him down, so he partners with the dorkiest fraternity on campus, Oozma Kappa, and his newfound frenemy to compete in the school hosted Scare Games. If they win, they’ll all be allowed back into Scare School and Mike will have a second chance at achieving his dreams.

And if you’ve seen “Monsters Inc.,” you know he doesn’t. While Sully goes onto break records while scaring children at night, Mike is relegated to sidekick, the unsung hero who lives vicariously through Sully. Yet as a child and a college student, Mike just knows that if he works hard, his aspirations will naturally fall into place. He has a naiveté that many in his position share, unaware of the fact that no matter how much you want something and no matter how hard you work for it, it may not pan out. Life throws curveballs and takes you down different roads than you originally imagined.

It’s a brave stance to take in a kid friendly movie and is opposite of the “you can be whatever you want to be” message so many kids are exposed to these days. It may even seem like a negative stance, but the opposite turns out to be true. Although the movie takes an honest look at failed dreams and shows that life sometimes doesn’t work out the way you had planned, it’s ultimately a hopeful and encouraging movie because it shows that other skills can lead to happiness and success. It emphasizes the idea that one dream crushed is another dream created and even though Mike is initially disheartened by the sudden realization that his lifelong dream will never come to fruition, he discovers other opportunities in his strengths.

This is exactly the type of theme Pixar needed to tackle, one that is necessary for children, but also relatable to adults. Very few people have lived their lives and achieved their one lifelong dream, so many in the audience may be shocked to see such a truthful representation of themselves in a movie about monsters learning to scare children. As far as storytelling goes, “Monsters University” is nearly flawless, if only one little inconsistency that fails to connect the two movies didn’t rear its ugly head. In “Monsters Inc.,” Mike specifically says to Sully, “You’ve been jealous of my good looks since the fourth grade,” implying that they have known each other nearly all their lives. But in “Monsters University,” they’re meeting for the first time at college. Although relatively minor in the big scheme of things, the stories of the two movies don’t connect as they should, which is a cardinal sin for any sequel or prequel.

Nevertheless, the most important aspect of “Monsters Inc.” carries over without a hitch: its amiable charm. In terms of pure wit, this is perhaps the cleverest movie Pixar has done since, well, “Monsters Inc.” As Mike walks down the main university strip on his first day, for instance, he passes by the debate team led by a monster with two heads that can’t seem to agree with each other and the improv club that can’t even improvise their pitch to get him to join. These small moments are delightful and really give the film a humorous appeal.

I’ll admit, I was skeptical of Pixar after their last couple films, especially when those disappointments followed their three best and most mature efforts to date, “Wall-E,” “Up” and “Toy Story 3,” but they’ve renewed my faith in them after this. “Monsters University” is gorgeously animated, wonderfully voiced (with additional help from John Krasinski, Nathan Fillion, Charlie Day, Aubrey Plaza and Helen Mirren as the Dean of the school) and all around magical. It’s that rare film that mixes childlike wonder with adult themes while never neglecting the details that are needed to bring the world to life. “Monsters University” is a joyous experience.

Monsters University receives 5/5


Tooth Fairy

Dwayne Johnson is a bucket full of unrealized potential. The man made a name for himself with his WWE persona, "The Rock," marking himself as a bad ass and paving the way for a huge action movie career. So what, pray tell, is he doing in these fluffy family friendly kids movies? Did he learn nothing from The Game Plan, Race to Witch Mountain or his recent voice work in the atrocious computer animated picture Planet 51? Evidently not, because he seemed more than willing to make a fool of himself in his latest monstrosity, Tooth Fairy. Outside of the inherent comedic value of seeing The Rock flutter around in a pink tutu, this movie has little to offer.

Johnson plays Derek, a minor league hockey player who was sent there from the NHL after hurting his shoulder. He's known on the ice as "The Tooth Fairy" because he has a knack for knocking out his opponent's teeth. He's nothing more than a sideshow on his team, having not taken a shot on goal for nearly ten years. He is dating a pretty woman named Carly, played by Ashley Judd, who has two children, Tess, played by Destiny Whitlock, and Randy, played by Chase Ellison. One night, Tess loses a tooth and places it under her pillow hoping the Tooth Fairy will come and give her money. Derek is babysitting and agrees to humor her, but instead uses the money he has to gamble with his buddies. When she wakes up, freaking out from the lack of cash, Derek decides to tell her the Tooth Fairy isn't real, though he is quickly interrupted by Carly who gets angry with him. That night back at home, he wakes up to find a summon under his pillow. He has been accused of killing dreams and is forced to live as a real live Tooth Fairy for two weeks.

I like Dwayne Johnson. He's charming. He's good looking. He's even pretty funny when he is provided quality material, as evidenced by his role in the hilarious Get Smart. And I must stress, there is nothing funnier than seeing him wear a tutu and looking like an idiot. Laughter is the desired intention in Tooth Fairy, but the problem here is that we're not laughing with it. We're laughing at it. This is merely another in a recent string of awful kids movies with no imagination, intelligence, or bite. Much like the notion of an actual Tooth Fairy, this movie is complete nonsense and as soon as it's out of your head, the better.

However, I can see a good children's movie in here somewhere, but it's saddled down too much by writing that meanders all over the place until it has nowhere to go. Like the posters that promote it, the film is loaded with plays on words like "You can't handle the tooth" and "The tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth," all of which are as grating as you'd expect them to be.

The film also lacks a decent sense of direction, probably due to the fact that director Michael Lembeck's most prized titles on his resume are the last two Santa Clause movies, which God knows is nothing to write home about. The only shining light in this otherwise abysmal experience are a handful of decent jokes, mostly coming from the talented Billy Crystal, who plays a role similar to his fantasy turn in The Princess Bride. He is delightful and manages to drag a few guffaws out of the inanity.

Everybody knows that January is dump month, but this year seems to be extra dumpy. Limited releases aside, the only film I would recommend from it is Daybreakers. Since that film, I've sat through dreck like Leap Year, The Lovely Bones, The Spy Next Door, and now this one (with the inevitable stinker When in Rome rounding it out next week).

Still, kids may enjoy this, specifically the ones that still believe in the Tooth Fairy, and it was nice to hear the word "fairy" get thrown around without some derogatory connotation attached to it, but for those above the age of belief, Tooth Fairy is not worth your time.

Tooth Fairy receives 1/5