Friday, July 5, 2013

Monsters University

Crossing the Line
Big Monsters on Campus

They're ba-ack.  The monsters who regularly hide in your childhood closets to go bump in the night have returned.  And the whole premise of Monsters University is to show how Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James Sullivan (John Goodman) first bumped into each other in the first place.  It was a given in the first film (and one of its unstated charms) that a one-eyed puke-green bi-ped and a shaggy polka-dotted blue-green beast became friends in the first place.  M.U. feels the need to explain this monstrously odd color in the first place.  You just know that at some story-meeting, the Pixar geeks leaned back and said "they probably met in college."

Which leads to the question, what sort of college would that be?  Knowing that we, as an audience, had already suffered through the entire course-load at Hogwarts, M.U. was a good bet for movie-goers.  There are all sorts of easy ironies for a place of learning that specializes in scaring the tar out of you (just as there was in the "Potter" series), and the ways that faculty and staff can exert their own forms of terror can make for a fairly seamless story-line (Helen Mirren is brought in—seemingly the only Britisher not to appear in the "Potter" movies—as the dragony dean of studies).  And the writers have a good time expanding on the differences between Mike and Sully.  Mike has all the scary potential of a rubber ball, and his struggles through the "scare" curriculum makes him more of an over-achiever than he already is (one can easily see him pulling one-nighter's until his one eye is blood-shot, but they don't go there).  Sully has it easy—he's a legacy student and doesn't put much effort into it, until his own back is against the wall.  Both are campus mis-fits of a sort; they can't get into the fraternity lorded over by Johnny Worthington (Nathan Fillion) and can only get into the scary "animal house" of losers that are the nerds on campus.  Once all this is established, the story writes itself, as if by rote.

Ever taught at a University?  It looks kinda like this.
And that's the problem with Monsters University.  The basic concept does some stretching, but then it's "pixilate by the numbers."  Everything looks great-nobody makes a movie look as good as Pixar, whether it's a natural setting as in their Brave, or the unnatural one here, and the nuances of character draw from classic animation as well as a few wrinkles that Pixar tosses in.  But the studio's sequels (excepting the "Toy Story" series) have a sameness that feels like coasting, as opposed to the daring ideas like Ratatouille and Up.  The best of the Pixar films expand the horizons and stretch the form.  One like this one are more insular and shrink the potential and the possibilities.  At least it's better than Cars 2, which, basically, ran around in circles, as race-cars are wont to do.

The preview for the next Disney factory movie shows it's about airplanes.  *Sigh* It does not bode well.

Monsters University is a Rental.

One of the little details that makes me love Pixar:
A "traditional" styled map of Monsters U.

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