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REVIEW: MONSTERS UNIVERSITY SCARE STUDENTS MIKE WAZOWSKI
By Thomas Wheeler

In 2001, Pixar Studios continued its string of CGI-animated hit movies with a new Disney-released film titled MONSTERS INC. In the story, we are introduced to the monster world, a world very much like our own, but populated with an astoundingly wide range of assorted (relatively harmless-looking) monster beings. This world was accessible to ours only through the doors of children's bedroom closets, thus playing off the traditional childhood fear of small children that there was a monster lurking in their closet. The monsters would emerge at night to frighten the children, transforming their screams of fear into energy to power their world.

All of this was carried out in a very business-like way by the corporation known as "Monsters, Incorporated". The lead characters in the movie were James P. Sullivan, also known as Sulley, one of the company's prime scarers, and his assistant, Mike Wazowski.

It was also a long-held belief in the monster world that children were dangerous, even toxic. The monsters were actually frightened of them, so being a scarer was considered an impressive job. Any direct contact with the human world was immediately addressed by the CDA, who would show up in military fashion, dressed in hazmat suits, and carry out such details as putting a protective cover over a child's sock -- and detonating it...

Granted, there were times in high school P.E. class when I was similarly tempted, or at least wished I had the hazmat suit...

Over the course of the movie, a little girl, a barely articulate toddler, made her way into the monster world. Nicknaming her "Boo", and with her nicknaming Sulley "Kitty", Mike and Sulley sought to return her to the human world, and keep their own necks out of trouble. Along the way, they discovered a plot on the part of a co-worker, which went all the way up to the president of the company, to implement some new hardware that would extract even more fear from human children, although the process was, to put it mildly, horrfic.

Ultimately, the plan was foiled, Boo was returned to the human world, and it was discovered that the laughter of children was a much more potent power source than their fearful screams. The monster world, and Monsters, Inc, was transformed as a result.

The movie was a hit, the characters were well received, the storyline was certainly innovative (something that a lot of movies can't really claim these days) -- but the outcome of the film didn't seem to leave a lot of room for a return. All matters were well-resolved. As much as people might have wanted to see more of the characters and concepts, there didn't seem to be much of anywhere to go. At least not forward.

But -- backward? After over a decade, Disney and Pixar have produced a second "Monsters" film. But it's not a sequel. It's a prequel. Titled MONSTERS UNIVERSITY", it takes us back to Mike and Sulley's college days, when they first met, and shows us how they were first rivals, and later friends, and eventually made their way to the Monsters Inc company.

And, to no great surprise, there is a toy line. There's actually quite a variety of toys, really, including action figures, plush toys, Imaginext sets, and more. I decided to round up the basic action figures for the core characters, Mike and Sulley. This review will take a look at MIKE WAZOWSKI (I get a kick out of the fact that the monsters in these movies have basically normal-sounding names), but first let's have an overview of how Monsters University came to be, and the basic storyline. You may also consider this your Spoiler Warning if you haven't yet seen the movie.

Monsters University was produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. Dan Scanlon is the director and Kori Rae is the producer. It is the fourteenth film produced by Pixar and also marks the first time Pixar has made a prequel of an established property.

Plans for a second Monsters, Inc. film have existed since 2005. Following disagreements between then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner and Pixar CEO Steve Jobs, Disney (who owned the rights to make sequels) announced that a sequel to Monsters, Inc. would be made by Circle 7 Animation and that a screenplay was being worked on. However, Disney's change of management in late 2005, which saw Eisner replaced by his lieutenant Robert Iger, led to renewed negotiations with Pixar, and in early 2006 Disney announced that they had purchased the studio. The Disney-owned sequel rights were then transferred to Pixar, leading to the cancellation of the previous version of the film and the subsequent closure of Circle 7. A Pixar-made sequel was confirmed in 2010.

On May 29, 2011, it was confirmed that the film would be a prequel and the title Monsters University was revealed. John Goodman (Sulley), Billy Crystal (Mike), Steve Buscemi, Bob Peterson, and John Ratzenberger reprised their roles, with Bonnie Hunt voicing a new character. New voice cast included Dave Foley, Sean Hayes, Julia Sweeney, Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Peter Sohn, Charlie Day, Joel Murray, Nathan Fillion, Aubrey Plaza, Tyler Labine, John Kransinski, Bill Hader, Bobby Moynihan, and Beth Behrs. On August 12, 2011, Billy Crystal was asked about his return to the role of Mike Wazowski and said, "I'm a little hoarse. I spent five-and-a-half hours today for our fourth session on Monsters, Inc. 2."

Monsters University details Mike and Sulley meeting for the first time, but this created a continuity error from the first film where Mike says to Sulley that he's been jealous of his looks since the fourth grade. Director Dan Scanlon said he had a dilemma with this line during pre-production, but he believed it was best if Mike and Sulley meet in college because, "we wanted to see their relationship develop when they were adults. And we also felt like college is so much about self-discovery and figuring out who you are." He then added, "It felt like the perfect place to do this, but we had that line. So we tried versions where they met young and then we skipped ahead to college. And we knew we didn't want to make Monsters Elementary."

Scanlon revealed during pre-production that, "Pete Docter, the original director, and John Lasseter finally said to me, 'it's great that you're honoring that, but you have to do what's right for the story.' So we made a tough decision to just have them be in college and put that line aside." Scanlon also sees that "fourth grade" line from the first film as, "an old monster expression" and "That's what monsters always say to each other." Personally, I've heard far worse rationalizations for continuity glitches...

Monsters University is the first Pixar film that utilized an improved lighting system, global illumination, introduced as part of the complete overhaul of the rendering system used since the first Toy Story film. In the planning stage of the film, director of photography, Jean-Claude Kalache, asked "What if we made these lights just work?" Before, artists had to build reflections and shadows manually, which proved to be ever more complicated as the models and the setups had become more advanced. The new lighting system, implemented with ray tracing, a technique that imitates the behavior of the light in the real world, not only automatized the process, but also delivered greater levels of realism, producing soft shadows, and let the artist spend more time on models and complex scenes, some of which contained thousands of light sources.

For research many of the filmmakers visited several colleges across the country. A few example colleges they've visited were; Harvard University, Stanford University, Texas A&M University, and University of Alabama. Many of the filmmakers tried to get a good glimpse of college architecture, student life, Greek organizations, and the methods of teaching by professors and faculty. To even get an authentic way of college life which was central to the film, many of the film producers spent several weeks at a fraternity house -- and lived to tell about it...

As to the details of the story, in an early scene, Michael "Mike" Wazowski, a six-year-old monster, visits Monsters Inc., a scaring company and one of the most famous in Monstropolis, on a school field trip. During the visit, the class meets Frank McCay, an employee of the company who works as a "scarer", entering the human world to scare children at night and harvesting their screams as energy to power the monster world.

Mike, enchanted with the idea of being a scarer, slips through Frank's door before anyone can stop him, where he watches Frank's scare performance, then follows him back through the door to the monster world. Frank scolds Mike, but is impressed with his ability to have followed him unnoticed, and gives him his Monsters University hat as a souvenir. Oblivious to his teacher's later admonishments, Mike dreams of being a scarer when he grows up.

Approximately eleven years later, Mike is a scare major at Monsters University. On his first day, he meets his new roommate, Randall "Randy" Boggs, a nerdy chameleon-like monster (and the main villain in "Monsters Inc."). During the first class of the scare program, as Mike is answering a question, he is interrupted by another scare student, an arrogant large blue monster named James P. "Sulley" Sullivan.

The class is also informed by Abigail Hardscrabble, the strict Dean of the scare program, that they must pass their final exam of the semester to continue in the program. While Mike is studying one night, Sulley inadvertently barges into his room to hide the pig mascot he stole from their rival college, Fear Tech. While the two introduce themselves, the pig steals Mike's MU hat and escapes. Mike and Sulley give chase, but when Mike captures it, Sulley takes credit, and is invited to join Roar Omega Roar, the elite fraternity on campus. Mike wishes to join, but is rejected, magnifying the rivalry between the two.

Mike studies hard and repeatedly answers questions in class correctly, while the privileged Sulley, convinced all he needs is his natural scaring ability, begins to falter. At the final exam, Mike and Sulley's rivalry causes Hardscrabble to fail them both and drop them from the program, which prompts Roar Omega Roar to remove Sulley from the fraternity.

Unsatisfied in his boring new major, Mike decides to prove himself by entering the Scare Games, an extracurricular scaring competition. As the games are only for fraternity or sorority members, Mike joins Oozma Kappa, a small fraternity of misfit monsters that were also removed from the scaring program. When Mike and Oozma Kappa are denied entry as they are one team member short, Sulley offers to join, seeing the competition as his ticket back into the scare program, and Mike eventually reluctantly accepts. Mike also makes a deal with Dean Hardscrabble, who remains skeptical, to re-admit their entire team to the scaring program if they win, whereas if they lose, Mike must leave Monsters University. Sulley expects to carry the team by himself, but Mike believes that with enough training, the whole team can succeed.

With the last-placing team in each round of the Games being eliminated from the competition, Oozma Kappa fails the first challenge miserably but miraculously advances when another team is disqualified. They then attend a party at Roar Omega Roar house where the other competitors appear to accept them, only for Oozma Kappa to be humiliated and discouraged.

Mike arranges a secret visit to Monsters, Inc. to lift their spirits. After that, Oozma Kappa uses their wits and training to advance to the final round against Roar Omega Roar. Even having advanced so far, Sulley does not think that Mike can be a true scarer because of his lack of natural ability. After the team wins the final round, Mike discovers that Sulley manipulated the equipment to improve Mike's score. Mike is heartbroken and wants to prove that he is capable of becoming a scarer, so he breaks into the school's "door lab" and enters a door to the human world, but discovers that the door leads to a summer camp and he is unable to scare the cabin full of kids.

Back at the university, Sulley confesses to Hardscrabble that he cheated, just as she's notified of the break-in. Realizing what happened, Sulley enters the door to look for Mike. After finding Mike and reconciling, the pair, now being pursued by human adults, attempt to return, but find themselves trapped in the human world, as Hardscrabble has deactivated the door while waiting for the authorities to arrive.

Mike realizes that the only way to get back into the monster world is to generate enough scream energy to power the door from their side. Working together, Sulley and Mike terrify the adults, generating an overwhelming amount of scream energy and allowing them to return to the lab. Their actions lead to their expulsion from the university, but the other members of Oozma Kappa are accepted into the scare program the next semester, as Hardscrabble was impressed with their performance in the games.

They share goodbyes and as Sulley and Mike leave; Hardscrabble tells them they are the first to have surprised her, and wishes them luck for the future. Mike and Sulley work at Monsters, Inc. in the company mailroom with the Abominable Snowman as the mailroom's manager. Working their way up through the company, the two eventually become part of the Scarer Team, as seen in the original movie.

Certainly the movie has been well-received, and is one of 2013's summer hits, as it well deserves to be.

So, how's the Mike Wazowski toy? Not bad at all, really. On a quick comparative note, even though I plan to review Sulley and Mike separately, it should be noted that the figures are not to scale with one another. The figure of Mike is a bit too big relative to the size of Sulley. But given the wild character designs of the Monsters, it would be nearly impossible to do an effective "to scale" line.

The inhabitants of the monster world can literally be anything. I don't think it would even be possible to figure it out scientifically. Although there seems to be a semi-dominant humanoid format, it really looks as though very few monsters bear any significant resemblance to one another, except perhaps through very direct family lines. Even the local architecture has to accommodate. While buildings use designs similar to what's seen in the human world, sizes are almost as all over the map as the local residents.

Does Mike Wazowski qualify as humanoid? Hmm -- well, he does have a body, with two arms that end in hands emerging from the sides, and two legs ending in feet emerging from below, but I think it would be a stretch to call Mike Wazowski entirely humanoid.

While he arguably has more humanoid attributes than some of his fellow monsters, the comparison pretty much comes to a screeching halt with the fact that Mike's head and body are effectively one and the same. Mike Wazowski has a pear-shaped body -- that's about the same color light green as the average pear, for that matter -- with two tiny horns on the top, a massive single eye front and center, and a large mouth below. Spring from the sides are the two slender arms, ending in three-fingered hands, and from below, the two spindly legs, with three-toed feet.

What sets the Monsters University Mike apart from his Monsters Inc. counterpart, as much as anything, is the presence of the Monsters University cap, something he didn't have in the first movie. He also seems to have a retainer or braces across some of his front teeth.

Apart from that, he looks pretty much like he did the first time we encountered him in the first film. Whatever amount of time has elapsed between Monsters University and Monsters Inc, Sulley managed to put on a little weight. Mike -- well, to be honest, I haven't the slightest idea what might be indicative of aging on somebody that looks like this. Bags under the eye? That could be nasty...

The figure is produced by Spin Master. I'll admit I don't have a lot of experience with them. However, they've had Disney licenses before. They did a very impressive series of figures based on the movie "Tron Legacy" which I am pleased to still have as part of my collection. These were very nicely made, well detailed, and well articulated.

Obviously, there's no fair way to compare the characters of "Tron Legacy" to "Monsters University". However, Spin Master has done an excellent job capturing the likenesses of these bizarre characters, including Mike Wazowski.

Mike stands about 3-7/8" in height, about 1/2" of which is cap. The sculpted details, especially on the face, are impressive. The mouth, in a crooked grin, is very well done, and more deepset than I might have expected. It can't be the easiest thing in the world to get an expression out of something that looks this weird and, from a human face standpoint, is missing a few things -- like a nose and a second eye -- but Mike's overall expression manages to come across as friendly and, dare I say it, bright-eyed.

The arms and legs are very slender, and surprisingly rigid. I would have expected them to have been made from a slightly more flexible plastic. They're solid enough, but I would be a little concerned about them being mildly fragile, especially if given to a small child to play with. This is especially true with the arms, which are extended outward and don't really fold down to the figure's sides all the way.

Painted details are very neatly done. The iris and pupil of the eye are extremely neat, and the painted details in the mouth are also well done. The rest of the painted detail amounts of fingernails, toenails, and the little horns on the head. The nails are a pale gray, the horns a slightly darker gray.

I'm quite sure that Mike's cap has also been painted, entirely dark blue, but it has the "MU" logo imprinted on it very well, as well as a little decoration on the brim that looks like a bite has been taken out of it.

While I haven't seen it personally, somewhere out there, there has to be an officially licensed cap that looks like this. I should check the Disney Store, just out of curiosity.

There's a sticker on Mike Wazowski's package that reads "Poseable Eye and Body". Okay, there's something you don't hear all that often. Poseable EYE!? All right, it's one of his major features, and it does make sense. Still, it was a bit of a laugh. The number of figures that have had poseable eyes over the years. I think the first was "Eagle-Eye" G.I. Joe. There were a couple of Action Man figures that had the same feature, and a British figure from the H.M. Armed Forces series that had moving eyes. Frankly, although it's a cool feature, it can also be just a little creepy.

Now, this Mike Wazowski figure comes from the "Scare Students" series, which as far as I can tell, is the most prominent and extensive selection of action figures in the Monsters University collection, with maybe the exception of the Imaginext line, but I don't know if I'd really call those action figures. The "Scare Students" figures really seem to capture the precise likenesses of the characters in the movie in the most straightforward action figure form, and that's what I was looking for.

Mike's "Poseable Body" means that his arms and legs are poseable, although the range of motion is somewhat limited, given that, at least in the case of the arms, they're a bit pre-posed. They rotate in their sockets and move up and down in an outward motion a bit. But the most basic or natural pose for Mike results in him looking like he's waving -- which isn't really a bad pose. His legs rotate in their sockets, but there's not a lot you can do here without affecting his ability to stand up on his own two feet.

As to the "Poseable Eye", it's a little strange. At first I thought it could only move upwards and to the side a little. But as I experimented a bit further, I realized I could get it to spin around and point in various directions. It's still a little strange, and I'm really curious as to what sort of internal articulation mechanism this thing is on and how it's really designed to work, but short of dissecting the toy, which I don't want to do, or putting it through an X-ray machine, which I don't have access to, the precise specifics of the "Poseable Eye" will have to remain a moderate mystery.

So, what's my final word? I'm very pleased that Disney and Pixar found an effective way to do a second Monsters movie. A prequel really was the way to go. And I'm just as pleased that they've maintained the characters, and the voice actors. The first movie was a lot of fun, and the second one is certainly a worthy addition. The concept has always been cool, the idea of this monster world, strange and yet very familiar, just on the other side of certain doors.

The characters of Mike, and Sulley, are not so different from how they appeared in the first movie, that you can't enjoy these new figures, even if the first movie is your distinct favorite. Sulley's a little slimmer, but Mike is almost entirely unchanged, except for the fact that this figure of him has the cap. And he looks good in it. Despite the articulation limitations, I believe that Spin Master has done an excellent job bringing these cool characters into the action figure world.

If you're a fan of the characters from Monsters Inc. and Monsters University, you should definitely check out the line of figures being offered by Spin Master, and that absolutely includes Mike Wazowski.

The MONSTERS UNIVERSITY "SCARE STUDENTS" figure of MIKE WAZOWSKI definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!