Friday, June 28, 2013

Monster's University...Just OK

[Image text: Excited, young monster, Mike Wazowski, with his
bags arriving at Monster's University.]
This post is a part of my summer blockbuster series. I'll be tagging the whole thing as 2013 blockbusters.

I've been so wrapped up in the local political climate, that all of my other blogging has come to a grinding halt. I'm sure this will be an on-going problem, given the fact that the second special session starts Monday. (Thanks, Perry!) Not only will my mind be consumed, but also I'll have limited free time, which I'm sure will be devoted to sleeping.

Last week, however, I was free on Friday night to catch Pixar's Monsters University. MU has a special place in my heart. When I first saw Monsters Inc. in '01, I officially met Mr. Nerdy Feminist. (We happened to see the film w/ common friends in a large group.) MU is a prequel to that original film and follows Mike and Sully as the meet each other in university for the first time.

The story is cute and straightforward. Mike and Sully meet and their differing perspectives clash. Mike is a studious rule follower and rigidly hard worker, but not naturally talented at scaring. Sully is laid back and casual to a fault, but has tons of natural scaring ability. They are pushed into working together to defend their spots in the school of scaring, learn that their strengths compliment one another, and become friends with each other and some new monsters along the way. Teamwork, discovering/celebrating personal strengths, overcoming challenges, and learning to treat others with kindness are all themes.

I have a track record of liking recent Pixar films, from a gender perspective. In that vein I was a little disappointed.

Mike and Sully work join a fraternity so that they can compete in the Scare Games, so almost all of the new characters are male. That's a disappointing choice because, when you think about it, there's no reason that the games needed to be based on Greek affiliations. They could have just met a group of friends who were their team.

[Image text: Dean Hardscrabble is dark red with large, outspread
wings, a segmented, insect like lower body and tons of small legs.]
The most significant new female character is Dean Hardscrabble, as voiced by the incomparable Helen Mirren.  Dean Hardscrabble runs the school of scaring and is, at the start of the story, the all time record holder for biggest scare. She's clearly excellent at scaring, but unlike all the other scarers, she's not only terrifying to humans, but also the other monsters.

In this way, Dean Hardscrabble is positioned as the villain of the story. She is the one who is threatening Mike and Sully's position in the school of scaring and is clearly against their (Mike in particular's) participation in the program. The message, to me, seems to be the age old "women in power are cruel and ruthless" narrative. I mean, I love that she's so powerful, but she's also kind of evil and not helpful or caring to her students.

[Image text: Aubrey Plaza's
There weren't really any other significant female characters. There is a mom of one of the fraternity brother's but she's totally pigeonholed into the silly, annoying, doting mom role. Aubrey Plaza voices another small role, a monster who helps officiate/run the scaring games, but all she does is essentially play the role of the narrator of the action at the events. There are two sororities that compete, but we see/hear very little from them.

So, like I said, this is certainly not the most progressive of the Pixar films in terms of gender representation. It was cute and it didn't necessarily offer incredibly damaging stereotypes, but it also played it safe and didn't counter stereotypes like Brave or How To Train Your Dragon.

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  1. Was there any violence in the film?

    1. Not that I recall but I'm not particularly sensitive to G rated violence. There's scaring scenes w/ kids and a lot of slap stick incidents but nothing I'd characterize as violent.


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