Monsters University Review
By Samuel Rahaman
Pixar are renowned for their high quality animated films and they have achieved much critical acclaim for almost all of their features. They have proven to be hugely popular amongst the general public and critics alike. However over the last few years there have been claims that they may have lost their “magic”. With the disaster that was Cars 2, and the mediocre Brave, it called into question whether Pixar had run dry; and whether they could compete with the rising popularity of their rivals and biggest competition, DreamWorks. What they needed was a film that would put a stop to the naysayers, a film that could hark back to their glory days, and that would help reclaim their right as the best in the business. It came as no surprise then that they announced they were to make a prequel of one of their most successful films of all time, Monsters Inc. But the question on everyone’s lip was: Would Monsters University soar to the same heights as its predecessor?
In short, the answer is, not quite. They get incredibly close in doing so; but the predictability of the plot and the “seen it all before” moments hold the movie back from being a masterpiece – however that’s not to say the film is a flop, on the contrary it’s one of the best films of 2013 so far. The movie starts with a glimpse into Mike Wasowski’s childhood, with a field trip to the Monsters Inc., and of course the scare floor, inspiring Mike’s lifelong dream of becoming a top scarer. This is one the most touching sequences in the entire film, for the audience know that he will never achieve his dream, and yet with the wide eyed, adorable face of the little Mike; you can’t help but hope he makes it.
The message explored within this film is a very refreshing change from the clichéd, fairy-tale idea of dreams coming true and the main characters getting what they wanted. Here the message is that life does not work that way and that sometimes dreams fail to come to fruition, but it’s not life ending; for there are other opportunities out there for you to let your talents flourish and to shine as a person. Sometimes what you dream about doing isn’t necessarily what you are meant to do in life. This message will resonate with the majority of the older audience.
For the rest of the film we follow Mike to Monsters University, where those wanting to become the best and most frightening scarer’s go to make their dreams come true; and it is here that the films main plot begins; and admittedly where it starts to fall flat. Whilst it is an ingenious idea to visit Mike and Sully in their college years, and see how their friendship blossom (A nice, subtle reference to the fact that most of the audience who grew up with the original film and are about to, or are in University themselves), the events that follow are very predictable. Mike and Sully of course do not see eye to eye, with each of them trying their hardest to outdo each other in every possible way. After subsequently being kicked off their course by their forbidding headmistress Professor Hardscrabble, due to an accident during their exam, they have to overcome these differences and with the help of some misfit monsters they must try and reclaim their place in the University in an event known as The Scare Games.
What is limiting the film from truly reaching the same heights as the previous film, is that it is a prequel, so we already know exactly where all of the characters will end up, taking away the stakes, the sense of threat and danger. Having said this, the film does package some unexpected twists and turns during the climax. What’s also lacking is some of the humour that made the original such a success; and what Pixar are renowned for. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments and a hilarious gag involving a slug-like monster who doesn’t want to be late for class (Stick around after the credits for another hilarious scene involving the slug), but there’s not enough of these moments to sustain the audience throughout.
Nonetheless the film does have flashes of brilliance; the visuals in particular are sublime, and hats must go off to newcomer director Dan Scanlon. The level of detail he has put into every single scene is breath-taking. From the vast array of monsters (there are literally hundreds upon hundreds of them in the University scenes), to the stunning architecture of the University itself, it proves that Pixar are still on top form with the quality of their film-making. The scenes involving The Scare Games are some of the most impressive, and ambitious display of visuals that Pixar have attempted and they succeed in captivating the audience, and creating some very entertaining moments for the audience to sink their teeth into.
Another highlight is the impressive set of vocal talents; the stealers of the show are of course Billy Crystal and John Goodman returning as the dynamic duo of the original film. They rekindle Mike and Sulley’s rapport brilliantly whilst also adding another layer to their characters. With Mike you have someone who has been shunned and bullied for most of their life due to his height, and as such his dreams and ambitions are much bigger, to prove to himself and those around him that he is just as good as, or even better than the best. Crystal nails Mike’s vulnerability, whilst also retaining the characters witty charm from the original. Whereas with Sully you have someone who has been in the shadow of his father’s fame for the majority of his life, and as such has had so much expectation put upon him to be the best. Goodman’s ability to make Sully seem utterly dislikeable at the beginning, with his constant bullying and being a complete jerk to Mike, and then to go back to Sulley’s kind and caring nature that we know and love, is absolutely astounding.
Also on fine form is the wonderful, Helen Mirren. It is clear from the off that Mirren relished voicing the headmistress, Professor Hardscrabble, by creating an austere, patrician villain that the audience loves hate (Although she isn’t really a villain, but you’ll have to watch the film to completely understand. Mirren doesn’t quite match up to the marvellous, late James Coburn, who played Henry J. Waternoose III in the original film; but she certainly does give the role her all.
Overall, for those who want a film that completely outshines the original in every single way, you won’t get this here. But if you want a film that displays stunning, awe inspiring visuals, a heartfelt message of not letting failure knock you down and a superlative cast; then Monsters University will prove to be both a rewarding experience and a fine return to form for Pixar.