Pixar is living proof that too much of a good thing can be bad. One would think after “Cars 2” the studio would go back to original films, but between “Monsters University” and the upcoming “Finding Dory”, this doesn’t appear to be the case.
“Monsters University”, the 14th film by Pixar, tells the early story of Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) as college students studying the art of scaring. The first act of the film focuses on Mike’s journey to Monsters University, as he has always wanted to be a scarer since meeting one as a young, marginalized child. During his studies under Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), Mike comes across Sully, a stereotypical college slacker who is riding his father’s scary coattails at the school. Around the time that these two meet, the film turns into a “Revenge of the Nerds”-type competition when Mike and Sully are forced to compete in the Scare Games with the unpopular fraternity, Oozma Kappa.
Most of the humor found in “Monsters University” is, unsurprisingly, from how college life translates to the monster world. From the orientation process to greek life to even how uncool your parents are once you set foot on campus, the film cleverly makes it all fit a world where scaring children each night is the bread and butter of energy infrastructure.
Though Billy Crystal and John Goodman both return to their roles as leading men (as if anyone could replace those voices), one of the film’s problems is that most of the laughs don’t belong to either Mike or Sully. Crystal and Goodman both coast their way to an easy paycheck while smaller characters carry the comic relief on their backs.
The Oozma Kappas are highlighted by hippie Art (a very funny Charlie Day), non-traditional student Don (Joel Murray, from early seasons of Mad Men) and the Squibbles (Peter Sohn and Julia Sweeney). The oddball humor of these characters is really what saves the film from a future in the discount bin at WalMart.
“Monsters University” is a pleasant film that is safe for families visiting the theater, but there was a time when Pixar was known for aiming so much higher than that. The story is very safe and, aside from the ending, entirely predictable.
One aspect of the Pixar brand that is evident here, however, is the incredible quality of animation. Compared to films that were coming out just a few years ago, “Monsters University” makes the gap in technology appear a decade longer. It’s exciting to see where animated films are taking us and that’s really the best thing that can be said for “Monster’s University”.
I’m hoping to post reviews for “The Heat” and “The Lone Ranger” here in the next week or so before I head out of the country for a little bit. Check back later this week and see what’s going on!