Film Review: Monsters University

Monsters University is the first prequel in the Pixar catalog and the results are a fun and nostalgic trip that doesn’t have the story or heart of the original.

This follow up to the magnificent Monsters, Inc. Finds our heroes younger and attending their freshman year of college at Monsters University. Best of friends in the original, the duo is anything but and they aren’t so much enemies as they are complete opposites Mike has to work for everything, but his book smarts make him technically proficient at everything there is about scaring. Sully on the other hand is all raw talent and he relies too much on that to get him through anything. A series of convenient circumstances ultimately throw the two together and they are forced to work together as they slowly evolve into the team we already know and love.

And that there lies probably the biggest issue with the film, there are no stakes here. The film is aimed more at the younger crowd than the previous effort and it is harmless from almost start to finish. We know these guys are going to get by and become the guys we know and love and that really puts a damper on the tension the film can build. Monsters, Inc. was legitimately scary and had peril at every turn, especially in the fantastic finale in the door warehouse. Boo’s presence and an unwritten ending gave that film an element of danger that has been missing from Pixar’s last three films and I think that helps explain why they don’t resonate like the studio’s best. With all of this going against it, the film is still rather successful though and is a solid college comedy.

There is plenty to enjoy here and any quibbles I have just kept it from entering the pantheon of Pixar films, not from being a good one. The film actually makes you reassess the entire series as the story has much more clearly become that of Mike. Sully learns some lessons in this film, for sure, but this is all about how Mike became a leader and his aspirations and dreams. This isn’t a complaint by any means, I think it makes the first film an even richer experience played back to back knowing where he came from and making his eventual rise to being Monstropolis’ leading comedian that much more sweet, and triumphant.

The film’s set pieces are all rather effective as well and feature some fun creativity that is honestly a bit wasted in a series of montages that move the plot forward. The film’s third act is also particularly impressive, if only it wasn’t dampened by the aforementioned lack of stakes since we know the duo is going to get out of their mess. I also have to give them props for younger Michael as he might be one of the cutest creations to come out of Pixar.

The strongest element of the film is actually the animation and design which blows away everything else out there in the field of animation; it’s not even close. Sure the monsters can be a bit generic at times (I imaigne this is a hold over to maintain the look of the original film), but the film looks amazing and the campus is a world that demands to be built in one of the Disney theme parks. You won’t find a prettier animated film this year I imagine.

I didn’t dive into Monsters University a whole lot here, but you know what you are getting into. The film is funny, fast paced, fun and will delight any fans of the original film. The plot might not be the smoothest or greatest to come out of Pixar, but the character work is here and actually improves the original film retroactively. Though, don’t go in expecting a film of Pixar’s highest caliber, that this is not, but it is certainly the best animated film of the year so far and one that is fun for everyone in the family.

Monsters University is a B

P.S. The new Pixar short on this film, Blue Umbrella, is easily the worst they have ever done; even against the DVD ones. The animation might be hyper real, but the story was terrible!

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