From the initial teaser trailer, I was hooked. Sure, the idea of revisiting all of these golden Pixar ideas and not necessarily giving us anything ‘new’ seemed a tad boring, but ‘Monsters Inc.’ was such a delightful film and the idea of sharing more time with Sully and Mike was something I looked forward to. A prequel showing us how this dynamic duo started seemed promising, and from a purely entertainment standpoint, it was. Sadly, the lack of originality truly surprised me and caused my adoration for the film itself to wane upon reflection.
The first thing of note is that ‘Monsters University’ is rather hilarious. There is no avoiding this. Even in its most obvious places, the film attacks your funny bone from almost every angle. The dialog is sharp, the one-liners are effective and the physical comedy is spot on. I was actually kind of shocked by this, considering that early word on the film was lackluster, and the idea of Dan Scanlon, the guy who wrote ‘Cars’ (Pixar’s weakest link by a LARGE margin), was the one who wrote and directed this caused a lot of concern. But, where the laughs are consistent, the development of story is lazy and that can be attributed to Scanlon’s lack of experience and skill.
‘Monsters University’ plays out like a crossbreed of ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘The House Bunny’. I know that sounds like a really odd mash up, and this film does not contain Playmates and teenage genocide, but conceptually it felt so generic in its laziness that pulling really any random ‘college’ movie and or ‘competition’ vehicle would be appropriate. There just isn’t enough individual personality to make this film work as a complete unit.
The cast of characters are fun. Individual scenes are hilarious (the sea urchin obstacle course scene had me in stitches) and some of the moments were really memorable (that final scare scene was something else), and while I was overjoyed to hear Helen Mirren’s voice come out of Dean Hardscrabble’s mouth (am I the only one who felt the classroom scenes felt very ‘Harry Potter’) I just wish that this film were something better. Crystal and Goodman are in top form and are really made for this kind of stuff, and the development of their friendship, while completely generic, feels genuine in the finale. I just wish that the obviousness of the plot wasn’t there. The idea that a group of misfits who are looked down on by everyone, including the teachers, have to pull themselves together, work together, get over their differences and eventually rise above and earn respect is just so ‘been there done that’ and yet, what else could they have done?
Have we really exhausted all originality?
At the end of the day, I give this a B+. It deserves that. Pixar has such a lush and exciting way about stringing us along, and they don’t truly disappoint here, even if they don’t truly inspire either.
As far as Oscar play is concerned, this is a lock in the Animated Feature category. I’m not so sure it will win, although Pixar as a disturbing hold on the category, and even with less than stellar reviews it could sneak its way to a win (it probably has that Globe already), especially when nostalgia reminds voters that ‘Monsters Inc.’ lost back in 2001. Other than there, I could possibly see it sneak into a Sound category, unless ‘Frozen’s musical angle steals that thunder. That’s it though. Despite the success of ‘Up’ and ‘Toy Story 3’, I don’t see a Best Picture contender here at all. I wish that I had waited until seeing this to update my June Oscar predictions, because I don’t see a Song contender here either. Score is too minimal and non-special to make an impact either.