Film: Monsters University
Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman
Directed by: Dan Scanlon
If the purpose of creating a sequel is to recapture the magic of the first film while sending the same characters on a new (though often similar) adventure, then it’s safe to say even animation has struggled to make the oh-so-profitable marketing scheme a true success. While sequels usually mean big bucks at the box office, it rarely leaves audiences feeling the same warm fuzzies of their initial movie-going experience. If that wasn’t the case we probably wouldn’t spend so much time online as a population complaining about the films in theaters, but it is, and here we are once again to discuss a sequel that simply doesn’t work as well as anyone might have hoped.
Taking the route of a prequel, Monsters University finds Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) of Monsters Inc. fame meeting for the first time as young men…er…monsters. Both are enrolled in the school’s famous Scarer’s program, along with a notable face or two from the first film, but shortly after classes begin they each realize they might not be as prepared for school as they had hoped. Mike is book smart, but considered too adorable by most to ever be taken seriously as a scary monster. Sully, on the other hand, is all sorts of ferocious, but lacks the focus and commitment necessary to succeed in a scholastic setting. These differences initially drive our characters apart, leading them to join separate fraternities filled with colorful characters, but in time they learn that working together may be the only shot they have at surviving the semester.
Pixar really missed the mark this time around. Instead of becoming the next Toy Story franchise, which continually raised the bar for overall entertainment value in the series, Monsters University pulls a Cars 2 by taking an amazing world of possibilities and doing absolutely nothing new with the idea that kids and adults alike haven’t seen a thousand times before. Kids know Mike and Sully grow to be the best of friends, and while it’s fine to explain it wasn’t always that way, MU wastes a fair amount of its runtime trying to sell you on the idea Sully is a quasi-bully too blinded by his own ego to see the value of someone as book smart as Mike. By the time they establish that, yes, our heroes do indeed need one another, the film has almost hit its halfway mark without having developed much, if any kind of antagonist. Without any real sense of direction, our heroes’ adventure becomes a meandering journey through colorful college scenarios before ending up at its predictable destination.
One could argue Mike and Sully’s journey to friendship is its own story, but I’m not sure it’s one that necessarily warranted being told. These films are for children first, and the kids in my packed screening grew increasingly distracted with the setup to our heroes becoming the team we know and love. A boy not far from me even asked his parents multiple times why the two were fighting because they “have so much to do.” Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that Mike and Sully have little to do in Monsters University, and it’s the lack of depth that ultimately leaves you feeling underwhelmed.
Aside from a side story involving Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi) that’s thinly woven through the film, very little of what happens in MU adds to the mythology of Mike and Sully, and that really is the worst part of this film. Pixar has a knack for creating characters and worlds people around the world embrace, but they have yet to master how to further that world once they have brought it to life. Monsters University feels like a film built on the thinnest premise one could imagine, and though plot development may not matter in every children’s film, it certainly lowers the overall entertainment value of this adventure. The CGI is gorgeous, and the seemingly endless variety of monsters is eye-popping, but once you get past the high-gloss look that has become Pixar’s signature, you realize that there is almost nothing behind the curtain.
Review written by: James Shotwell (Twitter)