Pixar's been in a bit of a slump. After fifteen years of absolute masterpieces, their last two films have been able to prove one thing: Pixar is human. They made two decent films in a row (Cars 2 and Brave), a shocker for the animation company that brought us some of the greatest films ever. However, those films were both plagued by production woes such as director swaps and arguments with Disney. Now, their latest film, Monsters University, went through a clean production, with no major problems. But can it bring back that Pixar magic that made Toy Story 3, Monsters Inc. and Up so memorable? There is one short answer to that question. Despite providing solid entertainment value for two hours, Monsters University's first half shows a lack of emotional depth and plays right into an audience that Pixar has never really strictly targeted before: kids.
Monsters University is the origin story of our two favorite monsters: Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman). Mike has wanted to be a scarer all his life and has to work extremely hard, but Sully is a natural. Unsurprisingly, they butt heads when they first meet at Monsters University, a prestigious college for monsters. They also get on the bad side of Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) and end up having to work with the loser fraternity, Oozma Kappa, to stay in school. This all leads up to an epic scaring competition where six fraternities and sororities have to duel it out through an obstacle course to find out who the scariest is. And despite their differences, all of Oozma Kappa has to work together to be the best scarers they can be.
Let me get this out of the way right off the bat. I saw this movie in 3D. Don't see it in 3D. I think I'm going to go on a rant here for a second. It was my fault that my family saw the movie in 3D, but I'm not going to a 3D, non-IMAX movie again. It's just a waste. The format brings nothing but a slight headache and a murky projection. Based on the amount of 3D admissions sold this weekend for World War Z and Monsters University, it's clear that the format is dying. Good.
Monsters University is a kids movie. If you are going to watch this movie, as an intelligent adult, you have to know that. Now, it does have a lot of funny parts and a nice second half which delves into some interesting emotional territory. But it is obvious that Pixar and Disney tailor-made this movie for kids. The first half is a fire-storm of colorful characters, loud noises and rhyming dialogue. Up until the games begin, this movie was a bit of a chore to watch. Just like the first half of The Croods, it relies too much on colors and stupid humor (although Monsters is a bit smarter in the humor department).
The second half of Monsters University is a much better film overall. The 3D is less annoying, the characters more fleshed out, the humor funnier, it has the feel of a real Pixar movie. See, the great thing about the Pixar classics is that they don't feel like animated movies. I relate more to the characters in Toy Story than any other film and that brings this emotional punch. Same with Up. Same with Monsters Inc. Monsters University never breaks that boundary where you can really relate to the characters.
But not every film can be Toy Story 3. That's the problem with Pixar. They made too many great movies. I hope that with the next few films they can get back to making films that appeal to both ages throughout the whole film. That's the thing with Monsters University: there are parts of it that are entertaining for all audiences. There are parts of it that contain to wit and charm of classic Pixar. But not all of it does. And for that, it's lesser than the best Pixar films.
The animation is splendid. Director Don Scanlon and his team really build on the Monsters universe and provide a lot of interesting new characters and cool stuff to bring to the table. The voice cast is amazing as usual and the storyline is solid, but not spectacular. A lot of the college humor falls flat but some of it is pretty funny.
Well, I honestly don't have much else to say. Monsters University is an entertaining movie, but nothing special. It's a fun time if you've got kids and if you are a fan of the first one, you will definitely find something to enjoy (especially in the second half). And it almost brings Pixar back to form. There's inventiveness not present in the world of Brave along with a sense of fun. But the lackluster first half that is tailor-made for kids and is rather hard to get into takes Monsters University down a notch. I like what they've done here, but it's all rather forgettable, which is new territory for Pixar and co.
THE FINAL GRADE: B- (6.9/10)