Monday, 17 June 2013
FILM REVIEW: MONSTERS UNIVERSITY
Walt Disney Studios Films
After the success of Toy Story 1 and 2 (1995 and '98 respectively), Pixar had established themselves as the number one computer animation studio in filmmaking. Combining the character and heart of old school Disney animation (Pixar has always been aligned with the House of Mouse one way or another) and fashioning them to original storylines, they won the hearts and minds of audiences and critics (from ages 4 to 94).
Monsters, Inc., about the world of monsters whose universe is powered by the energy emitted from the screams of children elicited by the jumping out of closets in the middle of the night (inter-dimensional doors allowing them to travel anywhere in the world), was the first in a succession of post-Toy Story home runs for Pixar, introducing us to odd couple scare team, James P. Sullivan and Mike Wazowski.
A prequel to the 2001 hit (Pixar's first Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature), Monsters University introduces us to Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) before they became BFF's. Both arriving on the campus of MU to Major in Scaring, the studious Mike and the easy going Sulley are polar opposites and as we know, opposites attract. But there will plenty of tension and ill-will between the two before they realise they have more in common than outward appearances and ability would suggest.
Cue the college campus caper cliches (minus the sex, drugs, and rock and roll, of course) as Mike and Sulley, and their makeshift frat brothers (a collection of 'uncool' monsters whose frat house just happens to be the home of one their members' mother), work together to win the annual campus Scare Games and secure their places at MU; the pair having royally peed-off the Dean (distractingly voiced by Helen Mirren) who has threatened permanent expulsion should they lose.
Pixar have set the bar in animated features very high for themselves that it seems that even they are no longer capable of besting, or even equalling their own efforts. After the emotional highpoint of Toy Story 3 in 2010 (the rare exception of a second sequel worthy of its predecessors), Pixar's output -- Cars 2, Brave, and now MU -- has (by their standards) been sub-standard.
But even judging Monsters University on its own merits, that is, not as a Pixar film but merely as an animated one, it still comes up short. While there's no denying the animation is top notch, the characters and story -- two things Pixar have always excelled at -- are fairly standard. If we hadn't been previously introduced to Mike and Sulley, we might not care at all about these two Freshmen's scaring escapades, geared so closely as they are to the mechanics of plot.
It's sporadically fun but Monsters University lacks that spark of mayhem which made Monsters, Inc. such a delight. Surprisingly, and more sadly, it also lacks any real heart. I hope that's not a sign of things to come; Pixar announcing they will be producing a sequel to their 2003 smash (and arguably my favourite of their films), Finding Nemo.
Understandably, Pixar is a company (and beholden to Disney) and it needs to make money but turn away from the business model that guaranteed your success -- rich characters, original stories, a big heart -- and we the audience may no longer invest our time or money. You don't need a Mathematics degree from MU to work that out.