“Monsters University” looks like Fruity Pebbles. While that realization initially caused every pleasure synapse in my brain to fire at once, I became troubled when, an entire act later, the film still hadn't done anything to divert my attention from this thought.
The Pixar people have remarkable PR. They've done a great deal to get their philosophy out there – how they are all about story. Compared to much of the other “kiddie fare.” the characters and emotion in their films are, indeed, a cut above. Some of their movies are just flat-out good (titles like “Monsters Inc.” and “Ratatouille”) and others, while a little reliant on one note (like Wall-E” or, dare I suggest it, the “Toy Story” trilogy) still know how to froth up some feeling and salt it with some clever jokes. We've gotten so used to talking about Pixar in these terms that we've forgotten something essential – these movies look cool. Rad. Gnarly, even. Their fundamental raison d'etre is to get a child to look at something inhuman and shout “awesome!”
The monsters in “Monsters University” are, without exception, "awesome." They have googly eyes and snaggle teeth and funny looking heads and gross slimy bits and brightly colored fur. This is design work of the highest caliber and it is impossible to not enjoy simply watching these little buggers run around. It is unfortunate, however, that the creativity, originality and propulsive storytelling found in the original “Monsters Inc.” (and in many of the other Pixar films) just didn't matriculate with them.
Indeed, I can't remember seeing a film where the stakes have been quite so low. Forget that we know that Sully and Mike will end up “all right” - this is both a prequel and a kids' film – but there is precious little done to make the world of “Monsters University” seem real. It gets by on fumes from the earlier film, but “Monsters University” is more interested finding a new physical comedy gag than anything else.
The opening chapters are rather dull. Mike (that's the Billy Crystal-voiced eyeball) wants nothing more than to grow up and be a scarer. But despite his book smarts, he isn't naturally scary. Sully (John Goodman, the teal-colored dino-bear) has a natural, fearsome growl, but is a dunce. If only circumstances would intervene so they could learn to work together and grow through cooperation and together strive for Zzzzzzzzzz.
Oh, excuse me, I trailed off for a minute. Luckily, if you do the same – or have to take a pee break – you'll have no trouble following the plot of “Monsters University.” It's basically the same as “Revenge of the Nerds.” A collection of extra-curricular games will determine if Mike and Sully get to stay at school, or if they are out on their ears.
“Monsters University” has a few high points – basically when everyone shuts up and lets loose with a nice, tightly-cut montage. The exaggerated action and quick verbal zings work quite well. Unfortunately it takes a solid thirty minutes for the first really solid montage to kick in. Up til that point, a lot of really on the nose yapping.
I'll give the picture some credit for putting a little english on the ball in the last act. It's as if the writers looked at one another and said “guys, guys, we gotta add SOMETHING unique here. We're gonna really come up short against films like 'Pitch Perfect' otherwise!” Some playful plotting (not just a chase) tagged on goes a long way to having you leave the theater with a smile on your face. It ends big – and what kind of jerk could fully reject Sully and Mike? Even with the many dull patches (and few truly engaging moments) by the time the movie ends you're likely to have been tricked into thinking it was a bit of fun.
Pixar is still in a rough patch. This is their third film in a row to prove severely underwhelming (though I do have a strange respect for “Cars 2," if only because it's so unrepentantly bugnuts). Nevertheless, the company that married state of the art computer animation with striking, creative storytelling has transformed, sadly, into something else: a production house that bangs out kids' films. Perhaps Pixar's next film will find them graduating to better material.
SCORE: 5.5 / 10