The summer of 2013 will likely be remembered as a period of sequels for the computer generated animated feature film segment. Sure there are some original pieces sliding into the fray (Epic & Turbo for example) but the lion’s share of the media attention falls squarely on Pixar’s Monsters University, Universal Pictures’/ Illumination’s Despicable Me 2 and already the trailers are beginning to circulate for Disney’s third entry into the Cars universe: Planes as well as Sony’s forthcoming Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (I won’t even start about a little underwater piece that’s been announced called Finding Dory).
Okay technically Monsters University is a prequel and not a sequel, the point of course is that we’re entering a phase where the big studios aren’t quite as concerned with developing new films from the ground up so much as revisiting their established franchises in the hopes of breathing new life into their appeal.
I, like many, felt that 2001’s Monsters Inc. wasn’t in dire need of branching out in either direction of the fictional timeline but figured it would be kind of fun to journey back into the collegiate efforts of Monsters Incorporated’s star scarers from the first time the early trailers went public depicting Sulley turning Mike into a makeshift dorm room disco ball (a scene that is, surprisingly, absent from the actual film).
What is not absent however is 103-minutes of well-paced Pixar comedy comprising the studio’s fourteenth feature film. The plot, which even the most conservative of commercials or summaries reveals, follows the early exploits of the unlikely duo of James P Sullivan and Mike Wazowski before they were a pair of working class stiffs.
The story begins with a brief prologue of the nerdy model elementary student Mike, who, during a field trip to Monsters Inc., decides that one day he’d like to become a famous scarer.
His ambition and good grades deliver him to the hallowed halls of Monsters University (MU), touted as the best place to learn the art of scaring. Fighting an uphill battle from the onset, the small green ball discovers he’s got the brains but not the bod to send human children into hysterics. Before long he meets an egotistical and lazy Sulley; in many ways his inherent opposite and the two begin what could better be described as a rivalry rather than a relationship.
Once a mishap gets the pair ejected from the Scare Program, the duo realize the school’s “Scare Games” present an opportunity to redeem their reputations and, thanks to a little slick talking by Mike, a shot at returning to their major of choice. What results is an impromptu initiation into loser fraternity Oozma Kappa, a battle against insurmountable odds and a whole lot of humorously integrated value of teamwork.
Reprising their voice roles more than a decade after the fact, Billy Crystal and John Goodman return with all of the charm and wit that carried the first film. Even Steve Buscemi is back to play the sneaky Randy while newcomer Helen Mirren casts a dark shadow as the genuinely intimidating Dean Hardscrabble.
The key to making the most out of Monsters University is to almost make yourself forget this is a big budget Pixar film. If such thing were possible, the piece’s biggest flaw stems from the fact that Pixar has been spoiling us for nearly 20-years with films that come dangerously close to the definition of perfection.
In other words, these guys may actually have raised the bar so high that they themselves can’t trump their earlier efforts. Whether we’re talking about the touching friendship established in the Toy Stories, the microcosm of society found within the world of Cars, robotic love discovered amidst endless piles of garbage in a human-less earth in Wall-E, or the simple love for the culinary arts fueling Ratatouille; you could count on Pixar to use the computer-generated medium to take you places you’d never imagine and to do so with so much clever charm that you thought about the film for days, sometimes even years after watching it.
To that end, Monsters University is a far cry from the glory days. Make no mistake, the film commits no crimes and is enjoyable from start to finish but simply lacks that Pixar magic that has typically put the studio head and shoulders above the competition.
Pacing is excellent, the visual charm is flawless and (as mentioned above) the vocal cast is as on point as ever. However, kids aren’t going to understand the nuances of college (or perhaps even more specifically, fraternity or sorority) life and a majority of the situational tension relies upon the ups and downs of life in an institute of higher learning.
In conclusion, Monsters University is a prequel that plays it safe and delivers upon all of the spit and polish one would expect from a Disney/ Pixar collaboration but comes off as an unnecessary revisitation to one of their more clever concepts. At the end of the day, you can go into this one with expectations of Pixar’s standards and come away slightly underwhelmed or imagine it as an animated film from just about anyone else and enjoy it for what it is.
Prequels always draw a low expectation rate for me. I believe while some prequels can be necessary, most of them are merely made to capitalize on a movie’s popularity and do little to expand on an established premise. “Monsters Inc.” is one of my favorite Pixar films (Take note: Favorite Pixar film, NOT one of my favorite animated films) and so I wanted to see a sequel more than I wanted to see a prequel. “Monsters Inc.” did an imaginative interpretation on the creature … more
Dumb me! Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb me! All summer I put my faith and hope in the big blockbuster films, the Iron Man 3's and Star Treks of the world. And from Man of Steel to Pacific Rim almost without fail these over budgeted, underwritten explosiony action films left me feeling disappointed and underwhelmed. Except for World War Z there is not a single movie I've seen this summer that I can truly say was a great film. Some were better than others (Oblivion and Pacific Rim were … more
Monsters University is an enjoyable film, a riff on the college comedy, borrowing liberally from "Revenge of the Nerds." But the more I think about it, the more problems I detect with its execution. Which is maybe further proof that it's better just to watch movies (especially summer-release movies) and not think about them. To begin with, what age group is this made for? Tonally, it's definitely pitched at kids - it lacks the kind of deeper resonance … more