This Pixar term paper seems a little dashed off in comparison to their innovative triumphs of yore.
To most people’s minds Pixar is a hackysack filled haven of free hugs and artistic impulse. At least that’s the image commonly projected of the cherished computer-animation institution. Don’t be fooled, beneath its progressive exterior Pixar is subject to the same creatively stifling boardroom politics as every other major production company. How else to explain the inescapable mediocrity of Monsters University, the studio’s fourteenth feature-lengther and first (hopefully sole) venture down the oft-precarious avenue of prequeldom?
That’s right, it’s back to where it all began for scream dream team Michael Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P Sullivan (John Goodman). In a cute preface we meet Mike as a squeaky-voiced youngster dreaming of becoming a professional scarer after a class trip to Monsters, Inc. Determined to prove to the world that being scary is about more than just bad looks, Mike vows to one day graduate from the top scaring school in the land. And so we jump forward to enrollment day at MU, where Mike has barely had time to settle in before Sulley crashes into his life like a big blue wrecking ball.
Surprisingly the pair don’t hit it off right away. Each has a very different approach to academic life — for Mike, being a scaring major means knuckling down, for natural-born scarer Sulley the degree is seemingly in the bag. But scarin’ ain’t easy when you’re seeking Dean Hardscrabble’s (Helen Mirren) horned nod of approval. When Mike and Sulley’s petty game of one-upmanship leads to them being kicked off the course, they bury the hatchet and quickly come to learn the importance of teamwork.
The best Pixar films have always been those with the most easily condensed plots: a young fish goes missing; two toys find their way home, a robot falls in love. The fundamental problem with Monsters University, then, is a lack of focus. Uni operates on a much grander scale than Inc — the work that has gone into populating an entire campus with an array of new and ingeniously anthropomorphised characters is staggering — but at the same time it feels far too constricted to its setting.
The joy of Monstropolis is that it is at once alien and familiar; it’s a world demanding to be explored, which is precisely what the first film did so well. Here the story is almost entirely confined to the grounds of the titular institute, and the high volume of stock college movie clichés smacks of lazy writing and a broader lack of ambition.
It’s not that Monsters University lacks any of the heart or wit of Pixar’s finest achievements — the attention to detail and sight gags are as impressive as ever — but narratively speaking this is derivative in the extreme. By the time Mike and Sulley have bro’d down with the drippy misfits of the Oozma Kappa fraternity in order to participate in the annual Scare Games, you’ll have relinquished any lingering hope of this film reaching the dazzling heights of its predecessor.
It’s hard to get too excited about any prequel, even if it is Pixar.
Great seeing old friends, but there’s no substituting an original idea.
Far from the studio’s nadir but fatally unnecessary.