Monsters University From the Perspective of Both an Adult and a 6-Year-Old
Monsters University, the prequel to Monsters, Inc., and the latest Pixar film, continues the studio's streak of stellar mediocrity and sequel cash-ins that seem to have dominated the post-Disney era of the once flawless studio. It's not that Monsters University is bad; it's that there's nothing novel or original about it. There's none of the old Pixar magic: It's a brilliantly animated, smartly voiced, and uninspired prequel, amiable enough, but certainly nothing unique. It's just another animated film, a space-filling ATM, capable of keeping the kids occupied, but not likely to inspire infinite re-watchings.
It's disappointing only in that we've come to expect so much more from Pixar, and where the studio was once capable of making movies that delighted the parents as much as the kids, they're now at the point where even the kids are shrugging their shoulders. Monsters University is the equivalent of a sixth season episode of "West Wing": You really love those characters, but they no longer have the same wit or imagination as they once did.
The prequel follows Mike and Sully's relationship in college, where Sully is an innately talented goof off, while Mike is a studious dreamer with very little scaring talent. The entire film essentially follows the Revenge of the Nerds formula: After screwing off for a semester, Sully is forced to join forces with Mike in a loser fraternity, the laughingstock Greek house of the school, where they are mocked and bullied by the university's Ted McGinley, voiced to perfection by Nathan Fillion (really, the highlight of the film). They must engage in a scare competition. Because of a bet with the headmistress of the school, if they win, they get to continue on in the school's scare program. If they lose, they're booted from the university. You can guess how it ends, though there is a twist, but it's not a particularly interesting one.
The film is cheerful and genial, boasting a decent line here or there, but there's not a special moment in the entire movie. It's hollow, peopled with a few characters we care about because of Monsters University who are put into contrived, predictable situations that provide little pay off. It's a safe, conservative film, hewing close to formula and offering little in in the way of memorable moments. It's more Disney than Pixar, although that line is becoming less clear.
A Nearly-6-Year-Old's Review, By Way of an Interview
Pajiba: What did you think of Monsters University?
Lil Pajiba: I liked it. (Note, he also "likes" greens, tomatoes, and things I spend a great deal of time preparing, because he's polite and doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings.)
P: Did you like it better than Monsters, Inc.
Lp: No, Monsters, Inc. was way better. But Daddy, isn't it funny that the first movie came out in the theaters second, and the second movie came out first?
P: That is funny. They call that a prequel. There are prequels to the Star Wars movies, but they're not very good. What did you like about Monsters University?
Lp: I really liked the end (the tag, after the credits), and the snail was really funny (he had literally 45 seconds in the film), and then it was bad, and then it was good again, and then it was bad, and then bad some more.
P: Did you not like the ending?
Lp: No. I didn't like the way that it ended, and I didn't like the scary parts.
P: Oh, I see. Did you like it better than Epic?
Lp: No. Epic was awesome.
P: What about The Croods?
Lp: Epic was way worse than The Croods. The Croods is at the very top with Star Wars. Then Monsters, Inc.. Then Epic. Then Monsters University is in the middle. (He really likes to rank things.)
P: What about the Phineas and Ferb movie?
Lp: That was the BEST. Except for the zebra who calls everybody Kevin, because I don't like him at all.
P: If your friends asked if they should see Monsters University, what would you tell them?
Lp: They should see it.
P: What if they could go to the beach or see Monsters University, which one would you choose?
Lp: Definitely, definitely the beach.
P: What about the park?
Lp: Definitely the park. It's real, and sometimes Monsters University is scary.
P: What if you had to choose between Monsters University and playing with the iPad?
Lp: Hmmm. That's hard. Monsters University.
Lp: Because it lasts longer, and I usually don't get to play the iPad that much, and because I get M&Ms at the movie.
P: Oh, I see. That makes sense. OK. One last question. If you could only see Monsters University if you had to clean up your sisters' room first, would it be worth it?
Lp: If it were a little bit of a mess, maybe. If it were a big mess, then no way!
P: Awesome. Thank you very much. You can go play now.
Lp: Can I play with the iPad?
P: Only if you clean your sisters' room first.
Lp: Grrrr. *loud sigh* Fine.