I have to admit that I’m concerned about Pixar’s readiness to jump into the deep end of the sequel pool. However, ‘Monsters University’ helps alleviate those concerns somewhat.
With the ‘Cars’ spin-off ‘Planes’ on the horizon and the newly announced ‘Finding Dory’ a couple short years away, Pixar has made it clear that sequels, prequels and franchising are a major focus at the studio now. I guess it was only a matter of time, right? I mean, with properties as popular as ‘Cars‘ and ‘Monsters, Inc.‘ (the merchandising alone is enough to justify greenlighting ten more movies right now), it would be stupid, from a business standpoint, not to capitalize.
Yet moviegoers and critics alike have grown accustomed to Pixar’s attention to storytelling. While so many other CGI animation studios produced kid-friendly but adult-snooze-worthy movies, Pixar held course and churned out original ideas, which were immaculately animated but also carried emotional heft. Even the ‘Toy Story’ trilogy supported three movies, each with its own unique emotional center. Then along came ‘Cars 2‘, and we suddenly found ourselves worrying about the state of Pixar. Sure, it made a boatload of box office cash, but the movie was far from anything considered Pixar-worthy. When ‘Monsters University’ was announced, a fan base held its collective breath, hoping that this beloved franchise wouldn’t suffer the same fate.
I’m ecstatic to report that ‘Monsters University’ isn’t nearly as awful as ‘Cars 2’, but it definitely doesn’t belong in the pantheon of Pixar greats either. While it’s wonderfully animated, the movie suffers from a somewhat stale, predictable plot that seems to spontaneously reproduce whenever a college-themed movie is born.
Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sulley (voiced by John Goodman) are destined to become best buds. We already know that from the previous film. In this prequel, the two have yet to meet. Mike aspires to be the best scarer that’s ever been. Even as a tiny green eyeball, he’s dreamed about graduating from the Monsters University Scarer Program. He studies like crazy and aces all his tests, but there’s one problem: He’s not innately scary at all.
Sulley is an obnoxious tool in college. He comes from a famous lineage of top scarers and everyone views him as the campus hotness. Sulley doesn’t study, but simply possesses a natural talent for scaring kids.
Like so many college-themed movies before, this odd couple is thrown together through a series of coincidences, into a situation where they must learn to like each other or they’ll lose everything. Among the mix of clichés is scary Dean Hardscrabble (voiced by Helen Mirren), who doesn’t want Mike or Sulley to succeed. There’s also the popular fraternity that everyone loves that must be humbled at some point, the nerdy fraternity that everyone dismisses that will soon show the world that they’re really worth something, the cast of outcasts who all have something to prove, and the campus-wide event that will culminate in all of the predictable storybook endings that you can see coming a mile away (with the exception of one crucial element between Mike and Sulley that caught me by surprise).
‘Monsters University’ excels when it focuses on its clever jokes and witty sight gags. Unfortunately, it lacks the emotional center that Boo brought to the first movie. Boy, how I miss Boo here.
This is a movie more focused on pleasing kids, though it has some stuff that adults might enjoy too. The straightforward, unoriginal storyline isn’t doing it any favors, but in a summer full of generic action movies, ‘Monsters University’ might be the change-up that people are looking for.