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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

MOVIE SHOWDOWN: Monsters University vs. Despicable Me 2

The past few weeks have seen the release of two legacy, computer-animated children's movies, with the first being Pixar's "Monsters University," a prequel to the 2001 "Monsters, Inc." and the subsequent being Universal's "Despicable Me 2", a sequel to the 2010 animated film. If you're not interested in seeing both, we've got a movie showdown brewing based on five randomly-selected (by which we mean thoroughly-constructed and scientifically-precise) dimensions: Characters, Plot, Voice Cast, Animation, and Humor. Let the games begin! 

Round 1: Characters 

This round is probably the closest battle out of all five. Both films have well fleshed-out, interesting characters that have already been well-established in previous films. Despicable Me 2 writers must have realized from its first go-around that the most likable part of its cast are the babbling, line-less, and unrelentingly adorable minions, which are featured more prominently in the sequel. And for the minions alone, Despicable Me 2 almost wins. But Monsters University has a superior set of villains who are darker and much less caricatured, along with lovable, flawed protagonists that are equal in depth and character to Gru and his children. So, by a hair, Monsters University eeks out a victory in this category. 

Winner: Monsters University 

Round 2: Plot 

In a decidedly less close battle, we have the battle of plot. In Monsters University, we see the origin of Mike and Sulley's friendship as they compete to win the Scare Games, a competition that will secure their places as top scarers in the university. This is a college story about learning who you are and what you want to do in life. Despicable Me 2 is almost the reverse; this is the story of what happens when you've finished with your calling and are ready to retire or move into a new field (specifically, what happens when you retire from being a notorious villain to spend more time with your family). The latter is far more interesting. Children's movies are rarely unpredictable, but Monsters University was more boiler plate and generic. Despicable Me 2 took some unexpected turns and felt light and fresh in comparison to Monsters University, which felt like it was working too hard to get us to its end point and set up the beginning of the original movie.  

Winner: Despicable Me 2 

Round 3: Voice Cast 

Let's start this round by acknowledging that both Monsters University and Despicable Me 2 have solid casts. Neither is hurting for talent. In Monsters University we have a line-up that includes: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Dave Foley & Nathan Fillian. In Despicable Me 2 we see Steve Carrell, Kristen Wiig, Ken Jeong, Russell Brand and Steve Coogan, to name a few. Both sets of casts rely heavily on comedic actors, but Monsters University relies on an older brand of celebrity, while Despicable Me 2 uses more recently-famous comedians. 

While both casts are stellar, Despicable Me 2's cast elevates the quality of the film in a way where its competitor fails. The actors' mannerisms and comedic stylings are perfectly-incorporated into their characters in a way that allows them to inhabit the characters, and most notably with Kristen Wiig, the cast feels like much more than a set of voice over actors. I'm not sure whether the writers knew Wiig was attached ahead of time, but it certainly felt like a part for her, rather than by her. 

Winner: Despicable Me 2

Round 4: Animation 

Pixar has had a rough few years in its fall from grace as the established king of animated movies. Wall-E and Up were well-received, but the studio stumbled after the releases of Cars 2 and the less-acclaimed Brave. Monsters University is not the movie to save the studio from this fall, but it succeeds where just about every Pixar movie succeeds: visually, it's a knock-out. The film uses a bright, exaggerated color palette to showcase imaginative and distorted-looking monsters. In a particularly stunning scene, the monsters compete in an obstacle-course-like race in the dark, guided only by bright purple glowing objects. 

Despicable Me 2 looks crisp and clean, but there is no equivalent scene that sticks with the viewer in the same way (3D also doesn't seem to add much to the viewing experience here). There's less to say about what this film looks like, and there's far less to remember. 

Winner: Monsters University 

Round 5: Laughs 

Despicable Me 2 is rated PG. Monsters University is rated G. The rating differentiation may seem small, but it's enough to make Despicable Me 2 feel like a much more grown-up movie, packed with humor that plays well both with young and adult audiences. Minute-for-minute, Despicable Me probably drew 2-3x more laughter from the audience (this author included). Monsters University relies on more cliched, generic college jokes, and while those sometimes fail, its larger sin is that on the whole it doesn't even try to be funny nearly as often as its competitor. This movie goes much more for sentimental value than comedic value, while Despicable Me 2 manages to find a nice center between the two.  

Winner: Despicable Me 2

Overall Winner: Despicable Me 2. Though not as visually stunning, this is a slightly more adult-oriented film, with a plot that is far more compelling and a cast that adds to the humor in a unique way. 

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  1. Despicable Me 2 not visually stunning? I thought the (spoiler alert) volcano explosion looked pretty neat, plus there were way more wide-shots than Monsters U. However Monsters U did have that ultra creepy depiction of the real world in its final act.

    Hard to say, they were both different visually.
    But as a sequel, Despicable Me 2 had a lot more going on and its premise was may more interesting than a University.

  2. I thought DM2 looked solid and beautiful, it just didn't stun or grab me with the animation like monsters u did. Def still the more enjoyable movie though, agreed :)

  3. This reviewer is a blithering idiot.

  4. Oh sweet! A troll! Feel free to use your name next time you want to toss around baseless insults.


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