Saturday, June 29, 2013

Monsters University

I waited a long time to write this review, in part because I didn't want to give a negative review of a Pixar film. I go into every movie wanting to enjoy it, and I usually succeed. I try to keep my expectations low so that I can be pleasantly surprised by things that the movie did well, even if it's not a great movie overall. In this case, though, I expected Monsters University to resemble Monsters Inc in some way other than the purely superficial, and it doesn't, and I wasn't able to change my expectations enough to enjoy the film for what it is.

Monsters Inc is one of my favorite Pixar films. It introduced a strange, charming, and somewhat scary world where monsters frighten children to generate power for their city. It was lighthearted, heartwarming, and adorable.

Monsters University is a prequel to that story, taking place when the main character from Monsters Inc were in college. But this isn't a fun adventure romp. This is actually a sports movie dressed up with monster costumes. There is a distinct Revenge of the Nerds vibe.

The plot involves Mike and Sully trying to succeed at scare college, initially as enemies and then as reluctant allies. The characters might not initially be recognizable: Mike, instead of bring the guy who never files his paperwork on time as he was in Monsters Inc, is the uber-nerd who studies constantly and knows more than anyone else. Sully is no more than a shallow jock. Also, Mike and Sully meet for the first time in college, despite Monsters Inc stating that they had known each other since at least fourth grade.

So, we have a movie set in the same world as Monsters Inc, with characters bearing the same likenesses and names, but which is thematically very different and which does not follow the characterization or continuity of its predecessor. This made it difficult for me to enjoy the movie on its own merits (and it does have some). I dislike being misled.

I'm also not quite sure I approve of the movie's messages. "If you work hard you can succeed at anything" is a fine sentiment, but "work hard and you can succeed at something you are not at all physically suited for" is something else. If I had worked hard enough, I might have been a decent basketball player despite being nine inches shorter than the league average - there are a few guys my height out there who play at a high level. But I could never have been an NFL lineman. There's just no way to compensate for my lack of size. The fact that the character in question doesn't actually achieve his goal isn't relevant to my dissatisfaction with the message.

On the other hand, the movie does a good job of showing that cheating is wrong and bad, and shows characters taking responsibility for their actions. That's good. But even these messages are delivered in a context that I found somewhat offputting.

It's not all bad. The movie is gorgeously animated, with a delightfully colorful palette. There is some good comedy, and a fair amount of charm, and despite my previous criticism, there are some good examples of hard work yielding rewards. For me, though, the good features were overwhelmed by the bait-and-switch. I wanted to see a fun adventure with cute monsters, not Revenge of the Nerds meets Rudy with monster trappings.

1. Much Ado About Nothing
2. Now You See Me
3. Star Trek: Into Darkness
4. Oblivion
5. Man of Steel
6. Iron Man 3
7. Jack the Giant Slayer
8. Beautiful Creatures
9. Oz the Great and Powerful
10. Epic
11. Monsters University
12. G.I. Joe: Retaliation
13. Hansel and Gretel, Witch Hunters
14. The Great Gatsby
15. This is the End

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