Directed by: Dan Scanlon
Produced by: Kori Rae
Screenplay by: Daniel Gerson
Robert L. Baird
Starring: Billy Crystal
Music by: Randy Newman
Cinematography by: Matt Asbury
Editing by: Greg Snyder
Studio(s): Walt Disney Pictures
Pixar Animation Studios
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Release date(s): June 21, 2013 (United States)
July 12, 2013 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 103 minutes
Country: United States
Production budget: $200 million
Box-office revenue (as of publication): $613, 990, 000
I'm back (again, again, as the Teletubbies would say, rotund peons that they are!)! So, after a long, hard but thoroughly rewarding week with my Scouts at Tipperary Wood, hiking, sleeping in bivouacs and an assortment of related activities (including a thoroughly juvenile spell running around, releasing my inner ten-year-old in an amusement arcade), I've decided to level out my six consecutive twelve hour shifts with a bit of film reviewing. Although, as I mentioned in previous entries, reviews will be more sporadic for August and September, following this I will put in my opines on Maniac and do a review for the month of July, and then proceed forth into August, during which period no doubt I'll see Grown Ups 2, because I'm a masochist, and hopefully get in The Wolverine and Only God Forgives, yadda yadda yadda, KEEP YOUR EYES POSTED!
A perpetual and perhaps unnecessary use of caps lock aside, I do have a review to get through, so, lets shoot on with Monster University, the latest outing from Pixar. Anyone who has followed this blog for the past few years will know that I have more than a few praiseworthy things to say about Pixar and how it is the contemporary dream house of cinema that does more for the arts culture and puts more smiles on people's faces than pretty much any other production company, precisely because they are passionate and genuinely care about what they are doing. You can feel that passion from the very beginning with 1995's Toy Story, and then in 2008 Andrew Stanton took Pixar to a new plateau with WALL-E, a film which showed that Pixar could match the artistic heights of a great Ingmar Bergman film. This was followed with more traditional but a still terrific movie in Up, and in 2010 with Toy Story 3 they achieved a film that is not only the perfect example of a synthesis between the old 'art versus entertainment' debate, but also, for my money, the greatest film of the past ten years. And then, out from the bowels of artistic drudgery came Cars 2. No movie was going to top Toy Story 3, but how on earth Pixar were able to take the charming characters of the first film and make them incredibly annoying, populating a film that was frankly one rotten dullard of a work, and one that, in it's own way, stopped me from going to see Brave last year. I will catch up with that one, but I was both angry and despondent when Cars 2 came out, so I needed time to recover the post-traumatic stress inflicted at the prospect that Pixar could in fact do wrong. So, with the acceptance of that possibility, I made a venture with my good friend over at Danland Movies to our local haunting The Strand and went to see this bad boy. A prequel to Monsters Inc., the film which up until WALL-E and Toy Story 3 was my favourite Pixar release, Monsters University is a movie easy to sum up in plot terms by way of it's title. Akin to Cars 2, there's a small switcheroo in the lead character, with Billy Crystal's Mike Wazowski taking centre-stage as we follow him on his quest to become a scarer. During his stint at Monsters University, he meets for the first time James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) and Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi) and many other characters as a series of monster-related activities with a bit of a frat-house/campus flavour to them. You got that? I'm easy!
To start with the good, the voice acting is of a high quality. The chemistry between John Goodman and Billy Crystal was one of the things that sold the audience on Monsters Inc., and they bring that established rapport over to Monsters University: if something isn't broken, why try to fix it? Furthermore, Crystal is the anchor of the cast, holding the movie's narrative drive together, giving us an entertaining and engaging lead in Mike Wazowski. Steve Buscemi's Randall 'Randy' Boggs is a welcome surprise, Buscemi giving the character a Woody Allen-esque neurotic flavour as a shy nerd who becomes the slithery villain of Monsters Inc., and the collective Oozma Kappa members are an endearing bunch of losers that we can get behind. It's nice to see that the writing quality in terms of dialogue and gags has gotten back on form. Unlike Cars 2, which seemed to just consist of car puns, Monsters University is at it's best moments a very funny movie. We see things like the arts society throwing paint over one of its members, who proceeds to slam his head into a canvas, and the softly-spoken mother who listens to Mastodon, and it's little things like this that show the writers give a damn. Also, it contributes to the microcosmic effect that this and the first film possess, with the monster world being a colourful, distracting and ultimately entertaining illusory metaphor for ourselves. Furthermore, and I don't mean to keep bringing up Cars 2, but unlike Larry The Cable Guy's Mater, a strangely charming supporting character but a ferociously annoying lead, Crystal's Mike Wazowski is a character that has been developed well-enough to more than hold his own as the lead. As is to be expected with a Pixar movie, the animation's of the highest standard, but I still want to say a few things about the work done here. The proof is in the pudding with regards to the details and effort put into the textures of the monsters. On the Monsters Inc. DVD, I always remember watching a feature which showing the complications that came with animating Sully's fur, with each individual hair having to be worked on, and if anything, not just with Sully, but all the monsters, they have outdone themselves. Also, the colour palette of the movie really catches the eyes, and the rich, textured look that the animators have imbued the film with is to its benefit. The returning Randy Newman delivers another of his irrepressibly pleasure scores that will find you tapping your feet and humming along with it, and debut feature director Dan Scanlon gives the film a relative level of freshness.
So, as you can see, Monsters University has a lot going for it. However, and I know I'm at risk of repeating myself, but while the dialogue, gags, and set-pieces are well-written, the overall story and character arcs move not just in predictable ways, but in uninventive and sometimes dull directions. In most other movies, this would be a bigger issue, but it is still the big issue that denies this from being a great film. For starters, while I have no problem with it being a prequel, the fact that we know the foregone conclusion that Mike is not going to end up being a scarer takes away from any genuine source of dramatic tension. Also, it frankly does nothing new with frat-house movie, which arguably reached it's high point well over thirty years ago with Animal House. You have the usual fraternity rivalries, competitions and what have you, and, hey!, we know what way it's going to end up from the start. Furthermore, the predictability of the plot in just about every single aspect and facet ensures that the film does drag out longer that it needs to. I mean, it's about a hundred minutes, but it feels a bit longer, and this is a significant problem.
Aside from suffering a gouge in the hip from a predictable and (story-wise) unimaginative script, with other movies it'd be more of a problem, but Monsters University is still a very funny movie. The voice cast, in particularly, Billy Crystal, is uniformly solid, the dialogue and gags are well-written, and the animation standard that we have come to expect from Pixar has once again surpassed itself, particularly with the details and colour palette. Finally, with Randy Newman being his usual good self and Dan Scanlon giving a relative level of freshness, Monsters University does not reach the heights of it's predecessor or much of the rest of the Pixar stable, but it's still an entertaining flick that's worth your time.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.3/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Lazy (apart from walking the dog, haven't moved a muscle all day)