| The Red Right Hand
Despite earning the position of leader in family animation, Pixar have finally become Disney; punching out banal, hollow mediocrity designed to sell toys. In fact, from 2010 onwards, Pixar haven't announced a single project that has demonstrated the originality, heart and promise of the company's first two decades. And if Monsters University in anything to go by, the future looks very bleak indeed.
Set a decade or so before the heart-warming, wonderful, hilarious, entertaining events in Monsters Inc., we learn that Mike the cycloptic green creature [Crystal] and James 'Sully' Sullivan the lumbering hairy polka-dot beast [Goodman] were not only not friends, they had never met. It was only after a fateful encounter during their university years that they bonded and became lifelong buddies…. sorry, spoiler. After a school fieldtrip, the young and impressionable Mike Wazowski has set his sights on becoming a scarer for Monsters Inc. and enrols at Monsters University on Monsters Lane using the Monsters Bus - available now at all Disney Stores. *ahem* Unfortunately for him, despite all his studying and knowledge of scaring technique, he simply isn't scary. James P. Sullivan (from a long line of elite scarers) is naturally built for scaring and subsequently is a bit of a jerk. Following a mishap in class, both students are kicked off the scaring course but see a chance to prove themselves by entering the tri-wizard tournament.. or hunger games.. or whatever you want to call it; some inexplicable decathlon of crap that could be stretched out for an hour and a half.
For any animated release, so much of the movie's success is down to visual quality. With a budget of 200 million dollars (double that of its predecessor), Monsters University is decent but neither warrants or really shows off the extensive budget. By comparison, Rango is a truly delightful experience, rich in texture, tone and detail. The problem here seems to be that everything is far too bright and colourful, losing some of the scale in the process. Furthermore, the setting of the college campus really limits the potential range of locations, sets and props. The only time the animators really get a chance to stretch their legs is when Mike and Sully find themselves by a moonlit lake in the human world, complete with moonlight streaming through the tall pines, shimmering water and a thick fog covering the land. Second to the animation, is the voice acting; you can hire the most talented actors in the world but if they can't convey emotion, plot points and a distinct uniqueness (that pairs with the character design and singles them out from the others) they will only hinder the film. While the acting talent utilised here is thoroughly commendable, there's absolutely no challenge for any of them and the new additions are completely forgettable. Nathan Fillion plays a simple bully but lacks any venom, Steve Buscemi is given a watered-down version of his previously menacing character, Charlie Day plays a woolly arch that says silly things when the script remembers he's there and Helen Mirren is essentially portraying Helen Mirren.
**This paragraph is a spoiler filled nightmare. Skip ahead to the end if you like**
This whole thing is a one-sheet prequel concept, thrown about a studio office that never had any hope of being developed outside of the initial pitch. If you're unfamiliar with the term, a one-sheet pitch is a producer's phrase for how to sell a film. The 'one-sheet' refers to a poster detailing a famous actor/character and the film's rough title or premise; the remaining details can be hashed out later. Of course, the problem with hashing out 'the remaining details' means that story, purpose and humour are shoe-horned and rushed to fit the simple synopsis. A prime example of this is actually a contradiction in the original Monsters Inc. Apparently Pixar tried to acknowledge/incorporate a line from the original: "You've been jealous of my looks since the fourth grade" showing Mike and Sully meeting earlier than university but after that didn't work out, they just hoped people wouldn't remember or take it as an exaggerated statement. It's this kind of broadly insulting thinking that highlights how little this film was thought through. You couldn't create a sequel because of how the first film ended, so a prequel or spin-off would need to be explored. What we end up with is a charmless, padded-out, paint-by-numbers affair, void of all heart and the amusing parallel between our world and that of the monsters. Even the setting of the university is a weird choice. Rather than recycling countless other college movies, we're presented with a few simple social cliques and lesson plans that feel more like the first days of high school - obviously due to the fact that any sort of higher education experimentation (sex, drugs, alcohol, social manipulation) would be grossly inappropriate for children. Several prequel tick boxes are taken into account, giving audiences a chance to learn why Randall squints, how Mike and Sully first met, how they got their jobs at Monsters Inc, why they work well as a team BUT WHO FUCKING CARES!? I can guarantee you that absolutely nobody came out of Monsters Inc. unsatisfied because we never saw how Mike and Sully were introduced. It was in no way important to the story or the characters. To quote Patton Oswalt, "I don't care where the things I love came from, I just love the things I love." We gain nothing from this film except maybe a weird anti-education statement. The only surprise that the film offers is the fact that both Mike and Sully are actually expelled from MU at the end of the film and have to work their way up the company ladder (something you can't really do in companies these days). I'll openly admit, I didn't see that coming. But the inclusion of this tiny detail makes the franchise a revenge story. Mike and Sully are kicked out of the most prestigious school in their world then start on the lowest employment rung of the most important company in their world. After however many years, the events of Monsters Inc. occur and we learn that children's laughter is more potent than their screams; which rejuvenates the energy supply and completely changes the workforce. But that means that scaring is no longer an art form. It's no longer necessary. Effectively, Mike and Sully manage to not only shut down the entire department of the university (or at least rebrand it for performance comedy) but put countless trainers, tutors and veterans out of jobs. Much in the same way that John D. Rockefeller ruined several rail empires (specifically upsetting Pennsylvania Railroad) by diverting oil distribution to pipelines instead of locomotive transport in the late 1870's. There's a possibility I'm reading into this a little too much but I have to believe this film is layered in some manner. It can't literally just be a surface-based, two-dimensional story of how two familiar characters met. Right?
One could argue that marking this movie down to a 4/10 is a little extreme; that even at their worst, Pixar are still producing better stories than their big budget competitors. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Yes, it has a handful of funny moments, the animation is impressive and the story is serviceable but these shouldn't be praiseworthy points. These elements should be the foundation of a movie, the given standard that all movies should start with. From there, elevating to great movies with superb writing, astounding visuals (be they cinematographic or computer generated), lush sound quality and music and a truly gripping or intriguing story. That is what should be achieved and if you think that is in any way unattainable, just look back at Pixar's first eleven films because they nailed it every single time.
12th July 2013
The Scene To Look Out For:
**Could be classed as a spoiler, I guess**
Right at the end of the movie, Mike and Sully start their first job at Monsters Inc. working in the post room. Sorting through and distributing the mail. We are led to believe they are very good at this, due to the power of awesome teamwork. Cue a cameo from the abominable snowman, who was banished in the first film. Except he seems to be their boss.. yet when they meet him in Monsters Inc. they have no idea who he is.. which is quite surprising considering if someone they knew and worked with was exiled from their world, you'd think that would make an impression. But that's not the point! The point was to bring back another recognisable character (who I swear to God looked into the camera and winked, as if to say "remember me, kids?") because familiarity breeds content. Who cares if it makes no sense, contradicts later events, pisses on the fans or proves that none of this was thought through properly? We've got your money now, suckers.
**Yeah, spoilers here too**
I didn't like anybody in this film. There was no personality or memorable impact to any of the characters. If I was pushed, I would say Nathan Fillion as Johnny Worthington but only really because it's Nathan Fillion. And even then, his character was a douchebag who started a douchebag and ended a douchebag. Actually, now that I've said that, we never really get to explore his fate as it's no longer important. Technically, his fraternity won the cup by default, so he would go on to have a long and successful college life. Hmm.. I wonder. Oh wait, no I don't because I didn't like anybody in this film.
"I'm here to make good scarers great, not make mediocre scarers less mediocre"
In A Few Words:
"A horrific let down. While not a death sentence for Pixar, they are well and truly lost at this point and desperately need to get away from the concept that sequels make for good cinematic releases"