Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Monsters University (U)

A lot has been written recently about the demise of Pixar. According to those in the know, the fact they have felt the need to bring is Monsters University is proof positive that the well is dry, the ideas have run out, the magic dust has turned to ash...

Which is, of course, balderdash.

Sure, at first glance, the story of how Mike (the green one) and Sully (younger versions of the stars of Monsters Inc, voiced by the now older John Goodman and Billy Crystal) came to be friends wasn't one the world was clamouring for - but then, no one knew they wanted a Cars 2, but still it came...

Essentially the problem is that, in the world of Pixar, the bar is unfathomably high. The people who brought us the aforementioned Inc, Up, Finding Nemo (yeah, no one was bitching when that swam back in 3D...), Wall-E, Brave, The Incredibles AND the Toy Story trilogy (again, no one was accusing Pixar of running on empty when Woody and co returned for more high jinks) have, these days, got to come up with something extra special just to maintain standards. Let alone raise them.

But does that automatically mean Monsters University is a bad film? Just because someone, somewhere, decided to tell the tale of Mike and Sully's school days (albeit 12 years after the first film growled onto our screens) rather than plough the cash into a new story, does that mean there are no more stories to be told?

Of course it doesn't.

What it does mean, of course, is that someone somewhere did some maths (it has an 's' on it America, deal with it), and worked out that of the millions who saw Monsters Inc (a film that currently has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), a lot would now have children. Children who would like to see a film about monsters. No, not the one the parents already owned, another one. This one, in fact.

Because if there is anything wrong with Monsters University (and there isn't much, to be honest), it's that it has the feel of a film made to hit certain marks on a chart, with all the marks adding up to many, many box office dollars. And that is a bit of a shame - especially when all the best Pixar films manage to hide the financial hopes behind films full of heart and soul.

But, like I said, that doesn't mean Monsters University is a bad film.

The story is nice enough. From a school trip, we are shown how Mike falls in love with the idea of being a scarer, creating the screams that power Monstropolis (a certain amount of knowledge of Inc is required in places) - but to become one, he must get into the Scare Programme at MU. Here he meets Sully (the big blue one), joins a frat house, enters the Scare Games, has scrapes and follies, learns stuff, becomes a better monster and grows up a little bit.

And this is another slight failing of the film. Where Inc (and many, many others - including Ratatouille, which I forgot about earlier) triumphed was the heart of the story about our heroes and a little human girl (Boo), which tugged at the heart strings while making us laugh. Here, the heart strings are being pulled so tight everything turns to mush - effectively becoming Monsters Sesame Street, where people's mistakes are Learnt From so we can all Become Better Monsters.

It's not exactly subtle when aiming for the emotions.

But again, that doesn't make it a bad film.

It's funny, it's fast-paced, it has nice little touches for the uber fans (even if it sets itself up for a fall from those same fans), and it looks good. The voices are, again, top notch, with Helen Mirren in particularly fine form as the head of the university. Doesn't need the 3D, granted, but even that doesn't detract from what is a very entertaining 90ish minutes. It's a perfectly fine, funny family movie.

But that, maybe, is the problem. It's only fine. We expect more. Even if you ignore the other Pixar films, you can't ignore the film this follows (even if it's actually telling the story before the first one). And that was a great Pixar film. Still makes me laugh now, which sadly won't be the case with University, mainly because while it's fun in front of the eyes it doesn't manage to lodge in the brain long enough to leave a lasting impression.

(A geeky aside - feel free to skip this bit if the finer intimate details of a film's universe bore you. There are two problems with the storyline of this movie. The first is the fact the whole premise of University is that it's when Mike and Sully meet. Only, according to Monsters Inc., they've known each other since Fourth Grade. Then there's Steve Buscemi's character Randall - or Randy, in his university years. Nothing wrong with his performance or character, it's just it feels like he was brought into the new film because he was central to the first.

Now, and this could just be me, nothing in the first film suggested the three of them were anything other than work colleagues, so why suddenly introduce him as a fellow graduate and brief room mate? Do we need it explaining as to why he became evil and sinister? Not really. And given how little he has to do here, why not just give us a whole new monster and be done with it? Sure he gets a good line at the end of the film, but it's hardly a big enough pay off.)

And we're back...

So, sure, it's not a stinker. It's no Phantom Menace. But I remain uncertain that we actually needed this story telling.

It ticks a lot of the right boxes, and the younger audience members who missed the Inc. years will enjoy it a lot. Probably. But if this had skipped the big screen and gone straight to DVD (something Disney are very fond of doing), no one would have complained and it might have made a bit more sense.

Still, that yellow snail fella is funny...

(Oh, and one other thing. Who the hell decided Motley Crue's Kickstart My Heart - a song about bassist Nikki Sixx being brought back from the dead after a heroin overdose - was the right choice as the soundtrack for a trailer for a kids' film? What's next? Rocket Queen to be used in Planes? Sink The Pink for Finding Dory?)

1 comment:

  1. Nothing will ever live up to the original. As charming as this prequel could be sometimes, I probably won’t remember ever seeing it like I did with the classic original. Good review Kahn.