July 3rd, 2013

krazy koati

We love the hall of Ivy that surround us every day

And more movies we've seen recently: we went to Monsters University, naturally, because as a pair of star-crossed academics we wanted to see how well the newest Pixar product understood university governance. The answer is, sadly, poorly. While one grants that every university is a bit of a law unto itself, it's unclear what precisely the lead antagonist of Dean Hardscrabble is the Dean of, and how her responsibilities square with the interest she takes in the introductory scaring programs and the students in the major. It would seem less troublesome if she were in fact the campus provost, but even that fits poorly with her activities.

Here's why this isn't a ridiculous complaint: Monsters University is, despite some sweet parts, a basically unsatisfying film, and I think the reason it's unsatisfying is there's never really a moment where you can see the antagonist's point, where you can see that she's at least being reasonable in her actions. Monsters Inc was good enough to provide, in Randall Boggs and in Mister Waternoose, people who may be doing horrible things but who were acting logically. You could see their points.

Dean Hardscrabble and the lesser antagonists, meanwhile, feel like they're simply there because this is a campus comedy and characters like this need to be there, and there's never a moment when the film asks why they're there, why they're doing any of this, or for that matter, what's the context into which the world fits.

For example: the movie shows that at Monsters University, which has a disturbingly similar name and apparently close ties to Monsters Incorporated (is it maybe a for-profit school funneling students into the corporation? But if so why does it keep up the facade of some non-scare-related majors?), the School of Scaring is the top dog, and the Scaring majors the big draw, the top major on campus. Fine. What are the other classes? What are the other majors? Not all of the Monster World is based on the scaring industry; there are chefs and news anchors, helicopter pilots and hairdressers. Does Monsters University have courses for any of them? There's a few glances and references suggesting it, but they don't matter any; everything is the Scaring Program. Monsters University has a universe barely as big as the movie needs, and doesn't adequately suggest there's more behind it.

Granted the story as it's set up doesn't really need to show the electrical engineering department. But I don't believe the filmmakers ever considered much whether there were engineering majors at the school. If they had, they might've found ways to make the plot feel less like one you kind of see whenever you turn Comedy Central on at 2:30 in the afternoon. Now and then the movie jumps out of its tracks and starts to feel a little more like anything might happen, and it's great when it does. Monsters Inc was fantastic when Boo made sure that chaos was breaking out.

(bunny_hugger and I liked, far more than possibly anyone else who hasn't got a doctorate, a short scene in which a beaten, exhausted professor of Scare Can Design explains how many people think Scare Can Design is a tedious, boring occupation not worth a monster's time.)

Trivia: In 1907 Rutgers's course catalogue, grown to over 200 pages, was finally completely revised, with all courses given numbers and arranged in sequence by departments. Source: Rutgers: A Bicentennial History, Richard P McCormick.

Currently Reading: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May/June 2013, Editor Gordon van Gelder.