Monsters University (2013): The 2013 Pixar film is a prequel (of sorts) to the popular 2001 Monsters Inc (yep...12 years ago guys) which has Mike, Sullivan, and Randy, amongst others, all attend college to learn how to become scarers. Obviously, things don't go as planned and thus the story ensues.
First of all....damn! It's been 12 years since Monsters Inc came out. Those folks at Disney are geniuses....I grew up with Toy Story as my favorite movie ever, and as Toy Story 3 was about Andy moving to college right at the time when I was going to college, Monsters University has come along right as those who grew up with Monsters Inc are going off to college. What an AMAZING coincidence! Oh, right....movie review. So first off, this movie is freaking gorgeous to look at. It's becoming easier and easier for cheap animation to look good given the advancement of that whole technology thing, but man does Pixar remain 8 steps ahead of the competition. Compared even to another animated movie that came out just this year in Planes, Monsters U makes it look like it was drawn in crayon. The amount of detail in the university's campus and the rooms and the beautiful slow motion animation is just incredible, just to name a few. There's even cinematography elements here! I feel like that's the next step for Pixar animation: being able to freely move a "camera" around in an animated setting. It really blows my mind what Pixar can do. And it's a bit of a jump for me having not seen the last two Pixar movies, so I was REALLY blown away.
Here's the problem though: the other thing that Pixar has that so many animation studios struggle with (and live studios for that matter) is being master storytellers. They draw you into a story and make you care so deeply about things that you wouldn't necessarily think that you would care about. For example, Up has everyone crying within the first ten minutes of the film, and I know I cry like a baby every single time I watch Toy Story 3 without fail. And saying bye to Boo in Monsters Inc. Just to name a few.That happens because I legitimately care about the fate of these characters. But it just didn't do it for me in Monsters U. And that's because Mike and Sully in this just aren't as likable as they are in Monsters Inc. And I get it, they learn from their experiences in this one that helps shape their future selves. I get it. But that happens at the end of the movie, not at the beginning. Honestly I cared more about the sidekicks for Mike and Sully than I did them. When their story arc is resolved that was the most touching point of the movie for me, even though it was immediately killed with a really really weird, unnecessary, and out of place relationship/engagement that was created at the very end and very suddenly for some reason between two characters. That specific joke was a huge miss, but there were several great college/young adult jokes in here that were GREAT. Pixar has always done a great job keeping adults entertained in a movie just as much as the kids.
Now can I talk about how the source material is massively wasted here? This is far and away my biggest complaint. This did not even remotely feel like a prequel to Monsters Inc. For starters there is a massively wasted story arc here in Randy's character. When he is first introduced I got massively excited thinking oh! We are going to find out why he became so villainous! No. He gets pushed off to the side and is in just a handful of scenes. And he becomes a villain (of sorts) by the end, after starting out as this young and upcoming monster excited to have his chance to become a scarer. MASSIVELY wasted opportunity here. And other than Mike and Sully and a brief cameo from Number 1 with her famous line, there is no one else from Monsters Inc in this movie. Well, the abominable snowman is in this but that's because if John Ratzenberger didn't show up in a Pixar movie all hell would break loose. Like, why couldn't we see the origin of Celia and Mike? Or a story with her at all? Honestly the credits sequence felt more like a prequel than the actual movie. I bring this up because I really hold Pixar in another league when it comes to story telling because they have such a great history of it. I can't help but feel that this one was more of a Disney cash grab.
I know it sounds like I'm hating on this movie, but I'm not. And I know its a kids movie. But it's a freaking Pixar kids movie. They are the best at this, and thus I feel I have the right to be a bit more critical of them. But the story is still fun. It made me laugh far more than I thought it would. The voice acting is fantastic (Helen Mirren is BRILLIANT, and Charlie Day....man do I love me some Charlie Day) and the animation is beyond gorgeous. But it just didn't have the knockout punch that other Pixar movies have. And honestly....I'm getting a little worried about this. It's no secret that Disney bought Pixar several years back, and that the last movie that was made before this buyout occurred and thus was 100% Pixar's baby was Toy Story 3. Now in my opinion Toy Story 3 is the best animated film I have ever seen, but since then in the Disney/Pixar era we've had Cars 2, which was universally panned, and Brave, which shared a similar fate. While I will be giving Monsters U a higher score than Rotten Tomatoes has on those two, it is still nowhere near any of the films before that. Which I have seen by the way. The only two Pixar movies I haven't seen are Cars 2 and Brave, in case you were wondering. Fortunately, the future appears bright here, with original content upcoming over the next two years and with Finding Dory the year after that, hopefully this recent trend in Pixar movies will change. I certainly hope so. It still sounds like I'm hating....but I swear I'm not! I'm just being not-very-forgiving. Also this is the longest review I've had to date. Sorry about that.
Oh! Positive thing! I LOVE the theme to this movie. So many kids movies have a theme of, just put your mind to it and anything is possible, but this one laughed at the norm. Way to have a bit of a drearier theme guys! Because you know, even if you put your mind to it, you might not be able to achieve your dream. However, you might find something you enjoy just as much along the way. Now that is a GREAT theme for a kids movie. And the theme here, obviously.
The Critique: a good but not great Pixar film with many great moments, and without that knockout punch. Still, a fun way to spend 100 minutes.
The Recommendation: if you like cute and funny animated films, then go for it. And a great one to take young ones to. From my younger sources its not scary at all. (And from what I thought of Monsters Inc when I was 10)
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 7/10 Good
Oscar Talk: Best Animated Feature Film (should be a pretty easy win....the competition is pretty weak this year)
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