Movie Reviews: 'Monsters University' And 'World War Z'

Bob Mondello reviews a creature double feature — Monsters University and World War Z.

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Brad Pitt tries to avert a zombie apocalypse, while some monsters head to school in the films "World War Z" and "Monsters University." Brace yourself, as our critic Bob Mondello says the year's most monstrous movie weekend is upon us.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: We seem to be awash in origin stories of late. First, "The Man of Steel," now the eye of green and the abominable snow beast of blue, Mike and Sully, the best scarers at Monsters, Inc. How did they become the best of the best, you ask? You didn't ask? Well, Pixar's got the answer anyway. They trained at Monsters U.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "MONSTERS UNIVERSITY")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Ready position. Common crouch. I want to see matted fur and yellow teeth. Basic snarl. Show me some slobber. Drool is a tool, kids. Use it. Now here is a monster who looks like a scarer.

MONDELLO: Sully, the big blue furball, growled by John Goodman, is the one the prof singled out, which annoys Billy Crystal's Mike, a hardworking, but less scary green eyeball.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "MONSTERS UNIVERSITY")

BILLY CRYSTAL: (As Mike) If you don't mind, I have to study my scary.

JOHN GOODMAN: (As Sully) You don't need to study scary. You just do it.

MONDELLO: Naturally, they end up rooming together and joining Monster U's lamest fraternity.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "MONSTERS UNIVERSITY")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Do you pledge your souls to the Oozma Cappa brotherhood?

CRYSTAL: (As Mike) Ow.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Do you swear to keep secret all that you learn here?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: No matter how horrifying.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: For crying out loud.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Sweetie, turn the lights on while you're down here. You're going to ruin your eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Mom, we're doing an initiation.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh.

MONDELLO: It's been 12 years since audiences fell for Mike and Sully's digitized odd couple act, which counts as an eon when it comes to animation technology. Scenes can now contain not just two or three, but dozens of variously tentacled, scaly, silky or fuzzed monsters. What hasn't advanced is the plotting, which was nothing special last time and is so formulaic now...

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "MONSTERS UNIVERSITY")

CRYSTAL: (As Mike) Just wait, hot shot. I'm going to scare circles around you this year.

GOODMAN: (As Sully) You're not even in the same league with me.

MONDELLO: ...that it's basically surprise-free. I mean, you don't want a G-rated monster movie to be actually scary on its way to life lessons about working together. And for kids, this one won't be, but some adults may be alarmed at this latest evidence that sequel-itis has infected Pixar. First, a pedestrian "Cars 2," now a passable "Monsters University."

Here's hoping Pixar shakes off the fever before their animators are walking around like the rest of Hollywood - glazed, zombie-like with dollar signs clouding their vision. That is not, interestingly, the image that "World War Z" conjures up.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "WORLD WAR Z")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: We've declared martial law.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Daddy, what's martial law?

MONDELLO: Although it's clearly out to make a buck and needs to since it cost many kazillions in overruns and rewrites, you'd never guess that "World War Z" had anything on its mind but action storytelling for the first hour or so. No sooner has it trapped former U.N. troubleshooter Brad Pitt and his family in a traffic jam then weird stuff starts happening all around them.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "WORLD WAR Z")

BRAD PITT: (As Gerry Lane) What is going on? Hold on, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Daddy, be careful on the road.

PITT: (As Gerry Lane) It's okay, baby.

MONDELLO: It's the zomb-pocalypse, a worldwide rabies-like plague that takes just 12 seconds to turn its victims into raving, gnawing and alarmingly fast-moving monsters, which means it spreads exponentially. By nightfall, many cities have fallen. By the next day, well, shouldn't spoil the surprises. Based on a bestseller by Max Brooks, the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, the movie is a straight-ahead race against time flick, which may distress fans of a novel that was structured less conventionally.

On the page, Brooks conceived "World War Z" as a post-war oral history in the journalistic style of Studs Terkel. But movie blockbusters require real-time urgency and the filmmakers were hoping for a trilogy so they opted for a central character, played by Pitt, and a lot of globe-hopping to look at swarming zombies overwhelming vastly differing national defenses.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "WORLD WAR Z")

PITT: (As Gerry Lane) (Unintelligible)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: We've lost the East Coast. Moscow is still dark.

MONDELLO: That means the novel's view of geopolitics gets subsumed by action sequences. Happily, they're effective ones. And it leaves director Marc Forster filming a pretty straightforward contagion epic, just on a grander scale than most. The film isn't subtle about parallels to real world epidemics and when it radically shifts gears in its final third, you don't have to have read about its trouble production history to know things were rejiggered at the last minute.

Still, whatever problems "World War Z" had in the making, the movie has made it to theaters not dead on arrival, but walking dead, running dead and when it's really working, swarming dead. I'm Bob Mondello.

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