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Tuesday, July 09, 2013  

M. Ovie Reviews: Monsters University

When James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) shows up at Monsters University, everyone assumes he's destined for greatness because of who he is. He's almost literally the proverbial 300-pound gorilla with the famous name who apparently doesn't even have to try hard to get great results, even as he's surrounded by lesser creatures who are doomed to failure despite working their asses off.

Kind of sounds like Pixar, doesn’t he?

Let's face it, the institutional genius that created Wall-E and Finding Nemo is kind of coasting when its 2013 slate consists of not one but two sequels. It's still head and shoulders above most of the other animation shops, like DreamWorks or Blue Sky or Sony, who may work as hard as Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) but are never going to be great because it's just not in them. As much as kids love Scrat from the Ice Age movies, they luuuurve Woody and Buzz.

The plot of Monsters University is lifted almost wholesale from Revenge of the Nerds, if Ted McGinley had been ousted from the cool frat early on and joined the Tri-Lams. It's more interesting thematically, though. And by "interesting" I mean "problematic." As long as I can remember, our culture has been telling kids that they can grow up to be anything they want to be. Monsters University tells them, "Not so fast, champ."

To be fair, the movie spends a lot of time finding the strengths of the band of misfits that the cool kids have written off as losers, to the point where the cool kids start acting pretty threatened. But mainly we're teaching kids the value of futility. As if Pixar is saying to its rivals, "Aren't you cute?" Yes, the Ice Age franchise is cute, but I'd put Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs up against half of Pixar's catalog, not least of all because it's the kind of movie Pixar will never deign to make.

As the saying goes, some are born to greatness, others achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them. Not to give too much away, but this is a prequel after all, and if you remember the ending of Monsters Inc. you already know how Mike eventually finds his. The other two routes are closed off to him in this movie. So I'm not sure it stands alone so well, even if it avoids including too many callbacks to the previous movie (in fact, it includes the exact right amount). And there are some decent jokes and sight gags and a very satisfying moment near the end that almost makes it all worth it.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has tried to quantify whatever it is that sets most Pixar features apart from other animated films. I still haven't figured it out. But Monsters University, alas, doesn't have it.

posted by M. Giant 1:17 PM 0 comments


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