Craig's First Take: "Monsters University"
on 2013-06-18 13:43
Questionable choices (“Cars 2”, “Brave”), sex on the brain (the creepy makeover that Princess Merida doll had to go through before becoming a real Disney princess), relentless cramming for the next test (Gone are the days where Pixar creates one masterpiece every couple years. Now we can expect 1 next year, 2 in 2015, 3 in 2016, 2 in 2017, and 3 in 2018), and constant wonder from the people who love it about what the future is going to hold? Yup, Pixar is a teenager now. So how about a college comedy? Animator and storyboard artist Dan Scanlon takes over the director’s chair from “Monsters Inc.” directors Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich, and David Silverman, while Robert L. Baird and Daniel Gerson (both contributors to the “Monsters Inc.” screenplay) help out Scanlon on the screenplay.
“Monsters University” has been the victim of some three strike talk for Pixar recently, although I question three strikes and what? Pixar obviously hasn’t slowed down with families or at the box office and the name alone is enough to earn (or maybe I should say buy) an Oscar, even when there are more deserving candidates. I also haven’t heard of what happens if it doesn’t quite hit a home run but earns a single because luckily our old pals Mike and Scully manage a solid, if not quite an all-the-way-back to the glory days of the Pixar brand, movie.
The prequel focuses on what defines us and what working together can accomplish, so right off the bat it’s more of a kids film but just give it time, it has some charms. Since he was a young child, Mike (Billy Crystal) the one-eyed green glob has never been the scariest (or really scary at all) but has worked to make it into Monster U in order to become the best scarer he can be. Sully (John Goodman) the blue, furry throw-rug has been more laid back, willing to let nepotism and large intimidation do the work for him. The two opposites begin the film in competition with one another but soon find themselves thrown together with a team of hard-luck losers for the Scare Games, an Olympic competition put together by the school’s hard-to-shock Dean (Helen Mirren). Soon they’re going up against the college-jacket-wearing bullies of the school (lead by “Castle’s” Nathan Fillion).
It’s never in doubt where all this is going but at least the games (and a scene towards the end where Mike and Scully are trapped in the human world) have some inventiveness. It’s never a laugh riot but there are some funny sight gags, cute secondary characters (Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Joel Murray and Charlie Day have their moments in providing voices for them) and random pokes at college life (frat initiations, guitar circle sing-a-longs, uninspired professors). And it’s never anything to make you swoon but Mike and Scully are likable- enough pals.
Basically it’s playing to the clichés of the college comedy but doing a better job of it than “The Internship” did a couple weeks ago. Billy Crystal, manic, and John Goodman, the monotonous straight-man, are as good as ever although you wish the script let them play to their improvisational strengths more. Mirren is also very good as the icy Dean. And again Pixar has given us a nice, candy-colored world with fun looking character creations to sift through, although thank you again 3-D for being entirely unnecessary and washing out some wonderful colors. When are filmmakers going to stand-up to this horrible, color-ruining format?
But I digress. Let’s just say this. “Monsters Inc.” used The Door’s “Break on through to the other side” in its trailer and even though “Monster’s University” isn’t “Toy Story”, “Finding Nemo”, or “Wall*E”, it’s thankfully more tolerable than “Brave” and definitely more than “Cars 2”, and is in no way worthy of Pixar adding “This is the End” to any future trailers.