Editor’s Notes: Monsters University opens wide today, June 21st. For an additional perspective on the film, read Jason’s review.
Summer brings plenty of treats with it, sunshine, popsicles, watermelon, barbeques (I now realize that I probably should have eaten before writing this), and a new Pixar film. Starting back in 2006, Pixar has been using the May-June window to provide consistently high quality animation paired with superb storytelling, delivering films for adults and children alike. This summer they return to their third set of original feature characters by reuniting Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan. The film marks a first for the animation giant as they venture out into the precarious land of prequels. The prequel itself has proved too daunting a task for many a franchise, but Monsters University is prepared to prove its worth.
The film marks a first for the animation giant as they venture out into the precarious land of prequels. The prequel itself has proved too daunting a task for many a franchise, but Monsters University is prepared to prove its worth.
On a school field trip to Monsters Incorporated, a young outcast named Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) discovers a profession that will become his passion; scarer. Devoting his life to studying the art of scaring, Mike aces all of his classes and is accepted to Monsters University, the school that he knows will lead him to his dream job. Minutes into his first class he meets James Sullivan (John Goodman), a natural born scarer with plenty of talent but no desire to open a book. The two instantly develop a deep dislike for one another. After a series of unfortunate incidents the two are forced together and must overcome their differences in order to continue doing what they love.
Pixar has always been hard to beat when it comes to animation. Even their lesser efforts (this will be the only time we speak of Cars 2) were admirably beautiful. This film is no different. The animation looks to be getting better and better with every film. It can be easy to forget just how far the company has come since it has always been at the top of its field, but a revisiting of Toy Story will reveal just how good they have gotten. The monsters in Monsters, Inc. were impressively unique, but with Monsters University the quantity of characters explodes. We meet many monsters but there are plenty more that simply reside in the background and are never heard from. Pixar takes the care to make even the most minor of background characters exquisitely detailed. The campus that acts as our backdrop for the majority of the film is vast and gorgeous. Clearly inspired by the older collegial institutions, the animators put enough of a monster’s touch on everything to make the familiar a distinct part of the monster world. You could easily get lost in admiration and forget that there is a film to be watched. Anytime a Pixar film comes out I find myself praising the animation, so yes, I get that this may seem obvious; however, to not comment on the gloriousness of the animation would be a disservice.
There is nothing truly new being explored in this film. The basic premise, a group of outcasts and underdogs that must pull together to show that they can defeat the established elites, is something you’ve seen time and time again.
Pixar has stood on a strong foundation constructed of two things of high quality, animation and story. We’ve covered that the animation is astounding, but that other point is a tougher nut to crack. There is nothing truly new being explored in this film. The basic premise, a group of outcasts and underdogs that must pull together to show that they can defeat the established elites, is something you’ve seen time and time again. So many college films have come to tell this story; Revenge of the Nerds, Animal House, PCU, Old School and Rudy, just to name a few. It’s certainly a departure from the studio that typically shies away from generic tropes. Perhaps it’s just too easy to harp on the film’s lack of originality in its basic structure. You can see where the film is headed and doesn’t explore any truly new ground in the realm of college films. Additionally, it has an ending that seems to downplay the importance of college, which feels like an awkward message to deliver to children. The film does ultimately succeed but it is not because but rather in spite of its elementary structure.
The retreading characteristic of the story notwithstanding, the film is a good prequel. It is able to avoid the large pothole of focusing too much on achieving the end point of the original. A stronger focus is placed on the characters themselves and the world they inhabit, rather than the events that will lead to their later employment at Monsters Incorporated. The first film was very much constrained to the company, with only brief moments in the surrounding world. With Monsters University the expansive nature of the monster world is delved into. There are new places and things for us to see, with very little time being spent on the one place that we have come to know very well. I had the worry that the looming shadow of Boo would darken the film, but I now am questioning my previous belief of her great importance to Monsters, Inc.. This film solidifies the fact that Mike and Sully are the heart and soul of the Monsters franchise, adorable human girls be damned (but not really, because that sounds awful). The laughs come quickly and often. In fact, possibly due to the collegiate setting, this film is even more accessible to an adult audience. There are plenty of jokes for the kids, but a growing majority seemed to be catered directly to the taller members of the audience. While I still assert that Monsters, Inc. is the better film, Monsters University is funnier and works on its own.
It can be tough in the Pixar family. There is a strong pedigree and as a new addition a whole lot is expected from you. Adding to that the expectations associated with being directly related to a prior success, the task of proving yourself is daunting. Monsters University takes all of this in stride. The Pixar artists continue to push the limits of animation by delivering a beautifully assembled film that is littered with detailed precision. With a story that is far from original, the film is able to overcome its own limitations by focusing on its layered characters and expansive world. The film is able to stand on its own and produces more laughs than its predecessor. Monsters University never feels quite as complete as its older brother, but is ultimately just as enjoyable.
[notification type=”star”]78/100 ~ GOOD. The film is able to stand on its own and produces more laughs than its predecessor. Monsters University never feels quite as complete as its older brother, but is ultimately just as enjoyable.