Monsters University Review

Posted: January 1, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

monstersuniversity-poster-ducttape-fullWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Historically, Pixar has almost always been a name that signified quality. They make “kids films” but they are written at such a level that many adults can embrace them as well. On top of that, their 2001 effort Monsters, Inc has always been a favourite of mine. And yet, I really had little interest in Monsters University. I couldn’t help but think of Pixar’s cynical sequel/cash grab Cars 2 and the news that Finding Dory is coming soon just left a bad taste in my mouth. Still, the reviews were positive enough for me to give the film a look and I’m glad I did. Monsters University is a pleasant surprise.

With Monsters University, we return to a world populated by various types of Monsters where the city’s energy comes from the screams of children. To get these screams, monsters are employed as “scarers”, a job which requires they sneak into a child’s room at night and scare them. It is one of the most important jobs in their world, and monster Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) is inspired from a young age to be a scarer too. He attends Monsters University, a prestigious school for scarers, where he aims to be the best. However he finds tough competition in the form of naturally gifted student James “Sully” Sullivan (John Goodman). Though the two are initially at odds, fans of the series will know they become the best of friends.

I think part of the reason about a Monsters, Inc prequel is just didn’t think a story of how Mike and Sully became friends could really be all that interesting. In this regard, I’d say I was about half right. The actual plot here is a pretty formulaic tale of opposites who learn from each other and grow. The film is also pretty clearly riffing on high school and college movies, notably Animal House. Despite the familiarity, the plot still mostly works. Part of this is because Pixa injects a lot of charm to the proceedings, but also because Mike and Sully are just really likable characters. It’s a lot of fun to watch the two interact and see them become friends, even if the story is conventional and predictable. Additionally, there are a lot of new characters voiced well by the likes of Helen Mirren, Charlie Day, Julia Sweeney, and a host of others.

I was also surprised by how funny this film is. The jokes in the trailers were not doing it for me at all, but the humour in the actual film is actually really strong. There’s a lot of clever writing which cracked me up, and a few visual gags which really work. Granted, some jokes do fall flat and others go on too long, but on the whole the Pixar wit is largely intact. The animation here is also really strong. The details in texture like Sully’s fur really pop and the backgrounds are great. There are also some creative designs, such as the dean who is half insect half dragon. There’s also a scene late in the film where the lighting is very dark and moody and that entire scene looks awesome.

At what I thought was the climax, I remember thinking Monsters University was a fun and enjoyable film, but also very conventional and safe. I was ready to declare Monsters University a modest success, but then the movie kept going and actually got better. The film takes a clever turn, which is then followed by a great conversation between the protagonists and then an exciting set-piece. In addition to being well-executed, it’s an emotional scene which makes the message of the film more complex and meaningful. I’m probably being frustratingly vague, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers. After this scene, the movie returns to its more conventional trappings, but the high it had hit still helps.

It may not have the creativity or the emotional resonance of Monsters, Inc., but Monsters University is a very charming and fun entry in the Pixar canon. It has fun characters, great animation, some laughs, and one really excellent scene. If you’re a huge Pixar fan, you’ve probably already seen this. But if, like me, you were on the fence, believe me when I was this is worth checking out. I can’t place it next to the Pixar elite, but it’s a solid film which is worthy of the name.

B+

Comments
  1. moviebuff801 says:

    Agreed. The first one is one of my favorite Pixars as well, and while this isn’t up on that level, it’s still better than the last two Pixar films before it.

  2. […] Monsters University Review | PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews […]

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