Film Review- ‘Monsters University’ (***)

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The start of a beautiful friendship?
The start of a beautiful friendship?

‘Monsters University’  *** (out of 5)

Starring (the voice talents of): Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi, Charlie Day, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Aubrey Plaza, and Nathan Fillion

Written by: Robert Bair, Daniel Gerson, and Dan Scanlon

Directed by: Dan Scanlon

I cannot say with a clear conscience that Pixar is lazy, as they are clearly productive with their output of short and feature-length films.  I can only point out that they lack the ability to stay as creative as they are prolific. Their films are generally so good and beautiful-looking that the standard they set for themselves each time is quite high.   “Monsters University” is another sequel, or in this case, prequel, to an existing hit, as opposed to an original story.  Including “Toy Story 2” & “3”, “Cars 2”, as well as the upcoming “Planes” (a “Cars” spinoff) and the announced “Finding Dory” (reaching theaters in 2016), this is the sixth project considered a continuation of their previous material.  I never felt the ‘Monsters, Inc’ story needed to continue, or that I needed the back story of the Wazowski/Sullivan friendship, but Disney/Pixar gave it to us anyways.  It’s a wholly unnecessary movie, but like all Pixar films, it’s better than 90% of the ‘family’ material given to us today.

It won’t take long to summarize what happens here, but I digress:  Mike Wazowski (Crystal) dreams from a young age of becoming the best ‘scarer’ ever, and follows the path of his scaring ‘hero’ by attending Monsters University over other famed establishments such as Fear Tech.  The first day of class, the ultimate monster jock, James P. Sullivan,  (Goodman), doesn’t even bring a pencil to class, and why would he?  He’s a Sullivan, and his father was a legendary ‘scarer’.  I think Pixar misses out on a huge opportunity here to introduce, at least as both characters are moving in, the parents.  I, for one, would revel at the opportunity to see Mama Wazowski or the Sullivan family.  What about brothers or sisters?  In a movie that gives us the opportunity to see where these characters come from, and what their motivations are, it’s odd to not see family, or hear any more about them other than a passing statement.

The main event takes place as a result of a snafu by our main characters.  Mike works hard, reads everything there is to read, and can’t quite pull off ‘scary’ like Sully, who can scare without much of an effort.  This isn’t a new idea; there’s always the bookworm versus jock storyline, so how do they get us to stay interested?  The aforementioned ‘snafu’ causes both Mike and Sully to get booted from the scare program at the university (a pretty harsh punishment for first time offenders), a punishment handed down by the scary looking and inconsistent character Dean Hardscrabble (Mirren).  Now we have our MacGuffin- how do the characters win back the favor of the dean?  If you guessed there would be some competition involved, instead of going through a customary appeals process, as would be the norm, you got it!  But wait, there’s more!  Of course, our ‘at odds’ heroes have to work together to win the ‘Scare Games’.  Cue an extended Pixar version of a montage, and voila!  A resolution!  (Every movie needs a montage….MONTAAAAAAAGE!!!)

If you’re detecting cynicism towards a perfectly innocent movie, you’re correct.  There’s nothing wrong with “Monsters University” as an innocent, better-than-most-every-kid-movie-around movie, but as an innovative, wholly emotional, memorable film, it fails.  Sure, Charlie Day’s ‘Art’ character is quirky and fun, but doesn’t get enough screen time, and Joel Murray’s ‘Don Carlson’ is great, but since “Fargo”, we’ve been inundated with the Minnesota Swede accent as a cute trait far too many times.  Maybe what’s missing here is a bit more heart.  So, we’re missing a ‘Boo’ type of character from the first movie, or at least more than simply an origin story of sorts to make this memorable.  Or necessary.

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