Starring Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren
Directed by Dan Scanlon
I read an article sometime ago, an article about Pixar, talking about the process that the studio goes through when fleshing out a concept for a movie. In a nut shell the article stated that Pixar wasn’t afraid to pull the plug on a project if they felt it couldn’t advance anymore and be up to their standards, no matter how far along they were in the development phase. The article also had an interesting quote from someone who stated that given Pixar’s rigid standards, if a movie was ever released that was wasn’t up to those standards, they wouldn’t want to be the person who gave Pixar their first bad movie. Well, we’re not to the point yet of Pixar releasing a bad movie, but it’s a little disconcerting that they might be inching themselves closer to that reality.
But don’t worry, that day, if it ever comes, is pretty far along down the road and Pixar’s latest movie, Monsters University, the sequel to their 2001 film Monsters Inc, is a lot of fun. But save for the animation, which I’ll get into later, that’s all the movie really is…fun. Which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just with Pixar; you’ve come to expect more from them. They’re the studio that is the gold standard when it comes to animated films. Not just with the animation, but with the story they’re telling as well. Monsters University is sweet, but forgettable. Will kids like it? You better believe they will. And how about those adults sitting in the theater with those kids, will they enjoy it? They won’t be bored, but for any adult fans of Monsters Inc (like I am), you’ll be wishing they spent a little bit more time developing Monsters University.
The movie, smartly, is a prequel to the original film, showing us how Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) came to know each other, which incidentally enough, was at Monsters University. Both are scare majors and while Sully is seen as the rock star (albeit with limited ability) thanks to his family name, Mike, in an ironic twist of fate, is friends and roommates with Randall (Steve Buscemi) and is still the guy who has to prove himself worthy of what he's trying to accomplish, and does so, much to the chagrin of Sully. But after an exam that goes awry, both Silly and Mike are kicked out of the scare program by Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren). Out to prove them wrong, Mike joins a fraternity of outcasts so he can take part in and win the annual scare-athon and show everyone that he deserves to be part of the scare program. Sully, feeling he’s more than just a one trick pony, sets aside his differences with Mike and joins the fraternity (after being kicked out of the top fraternity himself) to help them win the scare-athon. You can guess where the story goes from here, but with a minor twist (it wouldn’t be a Pixar movie without one).
The story is tailor made for kids, but yet is missing that Pixar magic that has been so prevelant in their films up to Toy Story 3. The thing that makes a Pixar movie stand out is the story. And while there is nothing to really complain about with the story in MU, you don't feel a real connection to anything, which is something that the older films did so well, even for adults. It almost feels like the creators were resting on their laurels with Mike and Sully, not trying to give us anything new about these two since there is a whole back story with the first film. The story also misses a real opportunity with the Dean Hardscrabble character, who comes off as something of a scary antagonist but is ultimately just antoher face in the crowd. The same can be said for Mike's outcast fraternity friends or even Randall. But as I said before, they're fine but with this being Pixar, you just expect a little more.
The thing that Monsters University really gets right is the animation. There is a real world sense to the animation. Meaning that there were a couple of scenes where it literally looked like they mapped the characters onto scenes they shot on the Disney lot. It looked really good and I hope to see more of this look with future films. On a side note, the short film that played before the movie, The Blue Umbrella, utilized the same technique and for what's it's worth, one of the better short films that Pixar has shown in front of its movies.
If you have kids, this a good movie to take them to, they'll have a blast with it. If you're a Pixar fan, you'll find yourself laughing at a couple scenes, hell, you may walk out with a smile on your face. But giving the dizzying heights that Pixar has reached during it's 18 year run of films, this may ultimately leave you a little disappointed.