Monday, June 24, 2013

"Monsters University" review

For three decades now, Pixar has been the leading innovator in computer animation. "Toy Story" is about twenty years old and, watching it today, it's still a marvel of technology. Pixar had continued to surpass itself, animation-wise, with each subsequent film. But now, the rest of the world has caught up. Dreamworks, Fox, Sony---they're all putting out their own CGI films to the point where the animation itself doesn't seem as special anymore.

For 15 years, Pixar could not do wrong. The films, bookended by "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 3," ranged from very good to excellent. Really, "Cars" is the only weak one of the bunch and it's still very watchable. The peak had to be from 2007 to 2010: "Ratatouille," "Wall-E," "Up," and "Toy Story 3." Three films that, amazingly, managed to top each other in quality. But after the very unnecessary "Cars 2" and the disappointing "Brave," Pixar must have been reeling a little bit. The films still made big bucks, but the studio was the toast of the town for so long. Suddenly, it seemed their creativity had reached an all-time low. And now they're going to make yet another sequel?

If they had to do a sequel to any of their previous properties, "Monsters Inc." definitely seemed like the best candidate. The original film, which came out in 2001, is easily one of their best and the characters were likable enough that nobody would mind revisiting them once again. With "Monsters University," Pixar does something that I can't recall ever being done in animation: a G-rated comedy set in college. On second thought, has any film managed to make a G-rated film set in college without it being completely lame?

That "Monsters University" actually works is an accomplishment on its own. The film begins with a young elementary school-aged Mike Wazowski who takes a class trip to Monsters, Inc. Mike is seen as a bit of an outcast, not particularly liked by other classmates who tell him that he doesn't belong. This doesn't phase Mike Wazowski who makes it his life mission to one day become a scarer at Monsters, Inc.

A decade later, Mike steps off a bus. His destination is Monsters University. Having never lost sight of Monsters, Inc., Mike Wazowski wants to do everything he can to excel at scaring, having entered the scaring program. He winds up becoming roommates with future foe Randy Boggs and while at orientation, is first introduced to future best friend James P. Sullivan or "Sully." As you might expect with this kind of movie, Mike and Sully do not start out being friends.

In fact, the two of them butt heads at every turn from the beginning of the semester to the end. Eventually, they are forced to work together and finally become close friends in the process. While the whole "enemies first, best friends later" trope has been done to death and "Monsters University" doesn't really provide a new spin on the story, the writers and animators do a wonderful job with adding a lot depth to this world. Despite the G-rating, anyone who went to college will have something to laugh at here. "Monsters University" provides a light-hearted satire at the world of college. There's no doubt that the writers and animators brought their own experiences to the process.

The film was such that I felt myself laughing much more than the kids in the audience. Most of the kids seemed to have a good time, assuming they all had seen "Monsters, Inc." I heard a couple of little kids yell "Sully" when he showed up 20 minutes into the film. It's funny because "Monsters, Inc" is twelve years old and so it very much feels like a passing of the torch. There seemed to be as many adults in the audience as there were kids and there's no doubt that some of those adults could have just like those kids when those adults first saw "Monsters, Inc." This is why Pixar is so great. At its best, it unites audiences of every age. The kids will laugh, and the adults will something to laugh at too.

"Monsters University" feels like a bounce back film for the company. It's not quite up to par with their greatest films, but it is very funny. As far as sequels go, it doesn't exactly have the emotional punch that the Toy Story sequels have, but it does have its fair share of poignant moments toward the end. Overall, it's actually really cool to see how Mike Wazowski and Sully got their start at the company. If you enjoyed "Monsters, Inc.," you will find a lot to admire here.

Grade: B

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