Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Monsters University

As I mentioned during my Brave review, I consider myself to be a pretty big fan of Pixar animated films. Truthfully I wasn't that taken with Cars 2, but I found Brave to be a welcome return to originality and heartfelt storytelling for the studio. Based on that upward trajectory coming off of Brave, I actually had fairly high expectations for Pixar's latest work, Monsters University. Having said that, I passed up multiple opportunities to see this film in theatres, which is something I rarely do with Pixar films. Perhaps deep down I expected a drop in quality, or maybe the return to Monstropolis was less inviting this time around, but it took almost four months beyond its release date until I finally sat down to watch this movie.

Mike Wazowski is a bright-eyed monster on his way to college with hopes of being an all-time great scarer. He takes his studies seriously and just as he's adjusting to college life with confidence in his future in the scare program, a rival in the form of James P. Sullivan steps into the picture. Massive and coming from a line of scare legends, "Sully" doesn't feel the need to study scare tactics or practice techniques. However this blatant negligence for homework comes back to haunt Sully as he struggles during his final exam of Scaring 101. Following a public display of mutual annoyance by Mike and Sully, Dean Hardscrabble drops both monsters from the scare program. But with the upcoming scare games comes a chance at redemption as Mike and Sully reluctantly join forces with the Oozma Kappas, a scare group denied entry to the games for lack of participants. The two rivals must learn humility and patience as they work together to fight their way back into the program.

Some of the teaser trailers for this film have been pretty entertaining, though most of the content that was presented never comes to fruition in the actual film. One of the great things about Pixar is their knack for weaving humor that adults and kids can enjoy. Given the college setting, one might think that the humor portrayed should appeal to college aged students as well as children, but the former half of that demographic is greatly under-served by the content of this film. Rather than ironic wordplay or hilarious scenarios (as is featured in Monsters Inc.), the film settles for juvenile sight gags and nudge-you-in-the-ribs joke telling. Some of the humor still works, but the majority is greatly disappointing compared to its predecessor.

The film also seems to lack direction, without a clear premise to guide it like the original film had. Monsters going to a university to learn how to scare can only take you so far before it runs out of steam. This seems to be the problem with forcing sequels to brilliantly conceived originals that felt completely unique and self-contained. It seems like the concept for a sequel came to writers relatively quickly, but then inspiration for where the story would go didn't seem to follow. The final result is a meandering attempt to recapture the magic of Monsters Inc. that works far less the older you are.

By the time the movie got into its final act, however, I was finding myself slightly more engaged in Mike and Sully's plight, routing for them to win the scare games and create the friendship we all know from the original. That all does come to fruition, but it takes far too long with forced moments of humor feeding desperate throwbacks to engender your good will for a film that doesn't really deserve it on its own merits.

Ultimately, it's a better movie than The Croods, but not quite as good as Despicable Me 2. The animation was as good as it needed to be, the voice performances were adequate, but the story and humor were the big sticking points for me. This along with Cars 2 make me unexcited for Pixar sequels (even the upcoming Finding Dori), as the studio seems to work best when breaking new ground. I give this movie a mild recommend for kids under the age of eight, but cannot recommend it to anyone else. This was a slight disappointment for me and I have to give it two and a half stars.