Pixar is an animation company that film junkies hold to a high standard. A standard higher than Studio Ghibli, higher than Disney, and much, much higher than Dreamworks animation. This is because of the beauty of Pixar’s works, the risks they have taken, and how they have captured film-watchers’ souls. The first forty minutes of Wall-E is silent. The first twenty minutes of Up follows a couple from the first time they met until one of them died of old age. Toy Story and its sequels forced adults to think about a child’s toys as real living things, to care for them, and to cry for them when forced to. Monsters University is not nearly as intricate or caring as Pixar’s greater works.
The film follows the adventures of Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sullivan (John Goodman) before entering Monsters, Inc., when they are in college– excuse me, in a university. They were not good friends at first, with Mike being a geek and Sullivan as a member of the ultimate scaring family. They both major in scaring. Mike is very good at the academic stuff, and Sullivan is terrifying. The problem is that Mike is not scary and Sullivan sucks at the academic stuff. They argue, they clash, they get kicked out of the scaring program. They have to go through a competition to re-enter the program so that they can become professional scarers.
There may be some fun references to the original film that I will not mention, a few hilarious moments, and, actually, a fair amount of unpredictability, but there is something missing. It is not nearly as heartfelt as Up, Toy Story, or Wall-E. Its plot is pretty straightforward stuff, an idea other, lesser studios would (and have) come up with. Its plot is something that would fly by my radar with no problems if it was from anyone else.
But it isn’t.
Am I being too harsh on Pixar? Is it unfair of me to lash out at their stuff for not being as good as their best? I have done so with their recent works. I found Cars 2 to be mediocre (although entertaining), I HATED 2012’s Brave, it being my least favorite film of the year. I DID have a good time watching Monsters University… but is it wrong of me to ask for more? Is an animated movie being merely mediocre good enough for today’s world?
Not even five years ago, Up came out, which is what I would consider to be one of the best animated films of all time. How has their quality decreased so much so quickly? Their animation has become even better. The new short attached to the film, The Blue Umbrella, is proof of that. It is ultra realistic and beautiful, as is the animation in Monsters University and Brave. But the writing– no, the entire idea of the film is unsettlingly simple. Unsettlingly simple for Pixar, that is.
I do not compare Dreamworks films to Up or the Toy Story series. I do not compare Studio Ghibli films to Ratatouille or Wall-E. Why do I compare Pixar’s new crop of films to the very best? Why do I expect the very best out of them, and then get disappointed when the product does not meet those high expectations?
Having said this, there is no “real” issue with the film. The voice acting is quite good. The animation is spectacular. The plot, especially the ending, is not cheesy, and goes places I do not expect. It is pretty funny, especially a scene showing the ‘tunes’ a mother listens to.
But it is all too simple. I feel I have seen it before. Maybe not the stills, the lines of dialogue exactly how they are, but the themes of the film seem to be exactly the same as a hundred other films, better than half of them, but not as well as about half. I do not remember most of it nearly as well as I do Pixar’s best works, works with themes this film reiterates. At one point, Pixar actually reuses a gag they did in Up, but not as well. In Up, Mr. Fredricksen descends a staircase very, very slowly on a motor chair. It is very, very slow (as I said a sentence ago), and we the audience see the whole thing. It is pretty hilarious to watch. In Monsters University, a snail says something to the effect of, “I can’t be late to class on the first day!” and starts running. Except it’s a snail! It’s slow!!!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!! We see it for a solid twenty seconds running! It is funny and– we have seen it before. There was set up for it in Up. In Monsters University, there is no set up. We never see that snail again, and it was never shown nor mentioned before. It was a gag for the sake of a gag.
Moments like that snail moment are spread throughout the film, decreasing its “freshness level,” making this Greg a sad Greg. Dear reader, keep in mind that this is a fun film. I have mentioned (stated) above some of its major issues and its lack of originality, but if you have a youngling to take to the theater, it would not be a bad move. You will probably have a good time. If Russell Crowe was to shout at you, “Are you not entertained!?!?!” You would probably reply, “You know, I kind of am! Thanks for asking!” But if you are hoping for something that brings you the same feels Pixar’s greater works does, you will be disappointed, which is why this “Lost Cannes.”
Oh, but hey! At least you will see a spectacularly cute short The Blue Umbrella beforehand! That was great.
Random Footnote: While watching the film, this question kept bugging me: Why would the university be called “Monsters University”? Us humans do not have places of education called “Humans University”. Is it just me that finds it strange?