This past weekend my younger daughter and I continued our longstanding tradition of catching Pixar’s new release on its opening weekend.
Monsters University was a lot of fun. Not completely on a par with the studio’s finest hits, but really nothing wrong with it, either. Very enjoyable, with many nods to the original film, Monsters, Inc., as well as to university culture and Greek life.
I love Mike Wazowski, the one-eyed, green ball of a monster voiced by Billy Crystal. He is such an enthusiastic, can-do little guy. And resilient—oh, my goodness, is he resilient! (SPOILER ALERT: the rest of this paragraph alludes to the movie’s conclusion.) When Mike is kicked out of the “scarer” program, it looks like the end of his lifelong dream of working on the “scare” floor. But there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and the mailroom is hiring at the Monsters, Inc., utility company. It’s truly heartwarming and inspirational to track Sully and Mike’s joint career trajectory via the photos and awards taped to the inside of Mike’s locker at the movie’s end.
Speaking of the end, though, don’t bother sticking around for the post-credit epilogue this time. My daughter and I were the only people left in the theater (except for uniformed teenagers with mops and garbage bags) by the time all nine billion Pixar/Disney employees’ names had finished rolling. What a letdown: The snail from the first day of school earlier in the film finally made it to class, only to be told by the janitor mopping the floor that the year had ended. Come to think of it, watching that postscript surrounded by people waiting to clean up made me feel a bit like a tardy snail myself.
For me, the best part of our trip to the movies last weekend was unquestionably The Blue Umbrella.
Pixar always runs a new animated short immediately ahead of its feature. The Blue Umbrella is the story of . . . a blue umbrella (guess you saw that one coming) . . . that falls for a red umbrella amidst a sea of black umbrellas crowded together under a downpour on a nighttime city street. When the surging crowds and gusts of wind threaten to separate the two shy characters, friendly inanimate objects exert their own powers to help throw them together once more.
The Blue Umbrella‘s story reminds me of one of the best short films ever, The Red Balloon (1956).
That beautiful movie, which won an Academy Award for its screenplay, is sweet and naïve, yet full of truth and insight about what is ugly and what is good in life. And it’s so uplifiting (literally :)) at the end, when all the balloons in Paris join together to right the wrong that has been done.
Like The Red Balloon, The Blue Umbrella contains no dialogue. Well, The Red Balloon contains one word, as I recall. The Blue Umbrella has no words, just background sounds of rain, city noises like traffic signals and car horns, and an absolutely perfect musical score featuring the singing voice of Sarah Jaffee. Here is a clip via The Wall Street Journal (sadly, minus the singing voice of Sarah Jaffee).
In addition to the lovely story, what I find most impressive about The Blue Umbrella is its animation. Like other Pixar films, this short film is computer-animated. Again: The entire film is computer-animated, ALL of it!!!! Take a look at the movie still below to see why that statement requires so many exclamation points.
The city scenes are rendered so incredibly realistically that my daughter was convinced that much of the film’s background footage (rain-slick pavement, etc.) was actually live-action, with the two animated umbrellas and the animated “faces” on traffic signals and buildings merely superimposed over it.
With The Blue Umbrella, Pixar takes animation into a new realm. It is exciting (although a little scary, maybe?) to see the line between real and not-real images so unequivocally erased.