Video Verdict: ‘Monsters University,’ ‘R.I.P.D.’

“Monster’s University” goes back in time to give viewers a look at favorite Pixar characters during their college days.

“Monster’s University” goes back in time to give viewers a look at favorite Pixar characters during their college days.

This week’s home video releases are anchored by a science-fiction spectacle starring Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds and a high-profile animated film by Pixar.

Monsters University

3 stars (out of four)
Rated G
Disney
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, digital download and on demand

It’s been 12 years since Pixar’s Mike Wazowski and James P. “Sully” Sullivan cast monsters in a new light. While part of me will always be disappointed that the Pixar folks gave into temptation and began extending preexisting animation franchises rather than channeling all their energy into fresh ideas, it’s hard to argue with the results.

With the exception of “Cars 2,” each of Pixar’s sequels has been strong, and “Monsters University” is a winner as well. The movie is presented as a prequel to “Monsters, Inc.” and it avoids the simple repetition that mars many movie franchises. It succeeds by taking already familiar characters and moving them in new and exciting directions.

The picture is set years before the events in “Monsters, Inc.” and it explains how Sully and Mike became the extraordinary team that viewers meet in the original film. We also learn that the two weren’t always pals.

They meet in the scare school at Monsters University, a program designed to make students as frightening as possible. This is a valued skill, of course, because the monsters power their world by harvesting the screams of children.

Mike is introduced as a passionate and dedicated student who dreams of becoming a professional scarer despite his cute appearance. Sully, on the other hand, gives school only minimal effort, assuming that his frightening countenance and his father’s reputation as a world-class scarer will let him coast. Their differing attitudes lead to a rivalry that drives much of the film.

Two of the original “Monsters, Inc.” screenwriters – Daniel Gerson and Robert L. Baird – are back for “Monsters University,” but director Dan Scanlon is new to the franchise. He adapts nicely because the tone and look of “Monsters University” are perfectly aligned with the original film.

Billy Crystal and John Goodman also give the project a sense of continuity by reprising their roles as the voice actors for Mike and Sully. Both men are terrific, and they instill the characters with passion and life.

The plotting in “Monsters University” isn’t as clever as in the original movie, and the humor isn’t as layered or consistent. Still, the film is worthwhile. It’s fun to see these characters in their youth, and the animation is gorgeous. Pixar proves once again that prequels and sequels can be good… as long as they’re given due attention.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include Pixar’s animated short “The Blue Umbrella” and a filmmakers’ audio commentary.

 

R.I.P.D.

2½ stars
Rated PG-13 for violence, sci-fi/fantasy action, some sensuality, and language including sex references
Universal
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Director Robert Schwentke’s cinematic adaptation of the Dark Horse comic “Rest In Peace Department” is fast-paced, loud and loaded with bombastic special effects. In other words, it’s a typical summer blockbuster.

“R.I.P.D.” focuses on Nick (Ryan Reynolds), a talented cop who is killed in the line of duty and promptly offered a chance to return to Earth. The catch is he must take a new physical appearance and do the bidding of the Rest In Peace Department, an organization dedicated to capturing Deados (spirits that have turned into monsters after refusing to leave Earth).

At first, Nick has visions of reuniting with his beloved wife, Julia (Stephanie Szostak), but he soon learns this is impossible. So, he settles for catching bad guys with his veteran partner, an Old West lawman named Roy (Jeff Bridges).

The premise behind “R.I.P.D.” is clever, and the film starts relatively strong. It is not long, however, before Schwentke allows the picture to settle into a traditional action-adventure formula. The fresh ideas give way to relentless action, bold special effects and a plot that is serviceable but never special.

Bridges and Reynolds are likable in the lead roles, and Kevin Bacon adds some juice as a duplicitous lawman with an agenda. Still, the actors are saddled with material that refuses to break new ground. As a result, the film moves in fits and jerks and as it travels the road of untapped potential.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted and alternate scenes, a gag reel and a making-of feature.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Family Tree” – The Complete First Season: It’s unclear whether this HBO comedy will be renewed for a second season, but fans can re-watch the eight episodes that have been produced. The show – created by Christopher Guest and Jim Piddock – focuses on a 30-year-old man (Chris O’Dowd) who investigates his lineage after inheriting a box of belongings from a relative he didn’t know.

“Byzantium”: Director Neil Jordan’s tale of a mother-and-daughter vampire team (Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan) who move into a small hotel and turn it into a brothel. Caleb Landry Jones and Daniel Mays also star.

“La Notte”: Fresh digital restoration of Italian writer-director Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1961 drama focused on a day in the life of an unfaithful married couple. Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau star. Presented in Italian with English subtitles.

“The Beauty of the Devil”: Newly remastered version of French director René Clair’s 1950 take on the Faust legend. Michael Simon stars as an aging professor who sells his soul to the Devil (Gérard Philipe) in exchange for wealth and fame. Presented in French with English subtitles.

“Cars 3D” – Ultimate Collector’s Edition: Fans of Pixar’s 2006 animated hit, can now enjoy the film on high-definition Blu-ray 3D. The story centers on a big-shot racecar who learns important life lessons after getting stranded in a rural town.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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