Friday, June 28, 2013

An Uninspired Prequel, Monsters University Disappoints.

The Good: The voice acting is fine, Animation is all right
The Bad: Dull and predictable story, Not funny, Not clever, Exceptionally formulaic character progressions
The Basics: Pixar’s latest box office triumph, Monsters University is likely to lose its staying power fast as audiences realize it is a movie utterly lacking in sparkle or originality.

When one watches a lot of movies, one quickly becomes attuned to the conceits of the various genres. Horror and science fiction movies have become such fodder for comedic parody because they have, largely, become so formulaic as to be unsurprising and utterly predictable. So, it is somewhat surprising when Disney/Pixar releases a new film that utterly defies the conventions of the genre. I’m not talking about the college buddy movie genre; Monsters University is so utterly formulaic in that regard that the premise could be written by a college freshman with just the basic line “We want to do a prequel to Monsters, Inc. that puts Mike Wazowski and Sully in college, where they are not initially friends. Seriously, a high school student could probably have pounded out the exact film Monsters University given that working premise. It is that predictable. No, I’m talking about the Disney animated movie genre. Monsters University certainly defies that, but not in a good way.

Sadly, Monsters University is without charm, humor, memorable music (it is not a musical), heartwarming moments or moments of visual spectacle. Unfortunately, Monsters University defies the traditional Disney conceits by creating a movie that is neither timeless nor significant, not original or even particularly memorable. And, it is worth noting that I enjoyed Monsters, Inc. (reviewed here!) and purposely did not rewatch it before taking in Monsters University so I would not be burned out on the characters or traditional issues I have with Disney’s animated “wonders.” This was a very pure viewing of Monsters University and as close to a review unbiased by the original as one could have while still knowing who the principle characters are.

Smaller than his peers at Frighton Elementary, Mike Wazowski nevertheless determines on a field trip that he wants to be a Scarer and attend the prestigious Monsters University. After sneaking into a child’s room from the scare floor on a field trip, he is given an endorsement by one of the scarers and is determined to make it in the future as a scarer. Years later, he successfully enrolls in Monsters University and enrolls in their scaring program. He hits it right off with his roommate, Randy, who is also training to be a scarer. One night, while Mike is studying, his dorm room is broken into by a giant blue monster chasing down a monster pig, the mascot of one of the other monster schools. He is James P. Sullivan and he instantly derides Mike for being in the scaring program because he is convinced that Mike does not have what it takes to be a scarer.

Sullivan’s trek through Monsters University hits a snag pretty quickly, though, when he tries coasting through Professor Knight’s Scaring class on his family name (he’s a legacy at the university). While Mike is booksmart, he cannot get any of the major fraternities to recognize him or his abilities, so he falls in with the outcasts. In order to prove himself worthy of remaining in the scaring program (and for Sully to get back in the good graces of Dean Hardscrabble), Mike and Sully team up with Squishy, Don, Terry (and Terri), and Art to try to help Oozma Kappa win the monster games. In the process, they become friends, Sully hedges his bets, and they all learn a very important lesson, blah, blah, blah.

Seriously, blah, blah, blah is part of the plot because the actual plot is so thin and short that the writers and director had to flesh the movie out with an extended sequence wherein Mike arrives on campus, a pointless twist near the end, and an adventure that follows the bulk of the plot (which is the monster games, which dominates the screentime of the film). As a result, the movie feels like a remarkably thin idea stretched out to reach just over a hundred minutes (probably because it would be virtually impossible to get people to pay for a 3-D movie at today’s ticket prices for the forty-five minutes worth of actual substance the film might have). The padding does not make a better movie. Instead, Monsters University presents one college cliché after another. In fact, the only one that comes to mind missing from the movie is the romantic subplot that would have pit Mike and Sully against one another for the affections of a woman.

There is nothing audacious on the character front. As a prequel, viewers already know that Mike and Sully will end up as friends. There is nothing incredible in Monsters University that illustrates the way they became friends was at all unique or compelling.

What Monsters University does have is a decent cast. The voice acting talents in the film are top notch. Led by Billy Crystal and John Goodman, the cast includes Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, David Foley, Joel Murray and, very briefly, Pixar mainstay John Ratzenberger. All of them perform fine.

The only other note I have on Monsters University is on the animation. I recall being impressed when I saw Monsters, Inc. at the quality of the animation. I marveled at how every hair on Sully’s fur was rendered and appeared to move independently. Monsters, Inc. left me impressed. Monsters University did not. The animation did not seem as vibrant or spectacular somehow and the 3-D did not pop either.

In short, Monsters University, like Cars 2, seems to illustrate that Pixar needs to think long and hard about revisiting its most successful properties; not all of them are the cash cows they appear to be.

For other Disney animated films, please visit my reviews of:
Wreck-It Ralph
Toy Story 3
A Christmas Carol
The Princess And The Frog
The Incredibles
Lilo & Stitch
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The Lion King
Beauty And The Beast
The Little Mermaid
Lady And The Tramp
The Sword In The Stone
The Aristocats
Sleeping Beauty


For other movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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