Sometimes, even the mighty fall hard. It’s not that Pixar’s recent movies have been bad (I’d dare say that Brave is a great film underrated by most critics), it’s the fact that they just don’t hit the same heights that we’ve come to expect of the company. From 2007-2010, they made four movies back to back that all amounted to a level of perfection no other company could boast, so it’s clear they were only setting themselves up for disappointment. Monsters University, their most recent animated release, and a prequel to their excellent Monsters Inc., is a film that has me torn. Let me make one thing clear: I actually liked this movie, but I found myself wanting to love this movie more than I did. Be that as it may, the fact still remains that I actually liked this movie. While it’s certainly nowhere near the top tier of their best films, I still found myself charmed and tickled all throughout the film.
Monsters University takes place years before Mike and Sulley were the top scarers of Monsters Inc., seeing them as complete opposites in college. Mike is a bookworm who knows anything and everything to know about scaring, but isn’t the least bit scary himself. Sulley is a descendant of a long line of famous scarers, but would rather goof off in school by coasting off of his family name. In an effort to prove their worth in the scaring program, the two reluctantly band together with other social misfits to win the “scare games”, and form their eventual friendship in the process.
Perhaps this is part of what lowered my opinion of the film. Out of all the Pixar films, the stakes have never been lower as we know how the timeline will eventually turn out. Aside from that, the filmmakers clearly have a lot of fun packing in every college movie cliché that they can think of (while still retaining that all important family rating), but these moments in the story sometimes provide hiccups that instead serve as a detriment to the experience.
However, Monsters University still remains thoroughly watchable thanks to the usual spark and ingenuity that’s to be expected of Pixar’s creative team. The film is genuinely very funny, thanks mostly due to the wonderfully set up gags from the inventive animation department, as well as the film’s many outstanding voiceovers. The film features a mixture of old faces (including Billy Crystal, John Goodman, and Steve Buscemi), as well as new faces (Helen Mirren, Nathan Fillion, and Charlie Day) that all click together so effortlessly. One thing I especially love is how it puts in motion many of the events of the original film, and expands on both the world of Monstropolis, and the relationships of all the characters, none that put a bigger smile on my face than the film’s ending.
All in all, while still a good film, it could have been so better. I’m not going to pretend that Pixar’s recent trend of films has been perfect, but I can’t exactly criticize them too harshly. It is true that they really need to get their acts together if they’re going to get back to making those perfect films that they seemed to make so effortlessly, but coming off of the insane hype of their peak days, I’m not going to lose sleep over them making a few not-so-spectacular movies (but like I said, I still think Brave is a great movie) in a row. Even the greatest filmmakers can make less-than-stellar projects every now and then, but I doubt that this will last long for Pixar. If anything, I’m completely excited for all the projects they’ve got lined up after this film. If they’re anywhere near the levels of WALL-E, Ratatouille, or Up, then count me in.
**** / *****
PS. I might as well mention the accompanying short to the film, The Blue Umbrella. It’s essentially a less amazing Paperman, but still solid enough. The story was nice, but nothing to really write home about. However, the short is cute, the music by Jon Brion is lovely, and the animation... is GORGEOUS! It’s completely photo-realistic, pure candy to the eye, and with this, Pixar is further blurring the lines between what’s real, and what’s computer.