Mike Wasowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) are scare students at Monsters University. A rivalry ensues between the two to be top of the class and an accident gets them thrown off the course by the imposing Dean Hardscrabble (Dame Helen Mirren). Only by working together to win the annual Scare Games will they be allowed back on the course.
The release of Cars 2 in 2011 signalled a change in attitude from Pixar. Prior to that they had largely dealt only in new IPs (Toy Story being the exception) and had shied away from sequels. However, since then the Disney-owned company have followed Hollywood’s lead and started to revisit past successes. As well as the return of Lightning McQueen et al, we now have Cars spinoff Planes and Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory on the way. And then, of course, we have Monsters University, a prequel to the 2001 original and the Pixar franchise with arguably (again Toy Story aside) the most to lose.
The good news is that Monsters University is a worthy addition to Pixar’s portfolio. It does lack a little originality, but that’s to be expected; we don’t get that initial ‘wow factor’ as we’re already familiar with the film’s universe and its inhabitants. As such the film does labour slightly in the outset, although it soon picks up and we settle back in to where we were an amazing/depressing 12 years ago.
It’s a delight to be back with Mike and Sully, but the film does seem to rely on this almost nostalgic feeling a little too much. Whilst the scrapes the duo get themselves in are amusing, the stakes just never seem as high as they did in Monsters Inc. The worst that will ever happen is that Mike and Sully don’t get back on their scaring course; there’s never much in the way of peril to make you really worry about them.
What the film does show off is Pixar’s amazing character design. On top of the regular cast to which we’re now accustomed, we are introduced to a plethora of new characters, some playing major roles, others less so. However, the sheer number of incidental background characters is staggering and really does showcase Pixar’s imagination and attention to detail. From the Scare Games’ jock announcer to Mike and Sully’s furry, hippy biped friend, it’s a joy to let your eyes wander around the screen to check out the variety of characters.
One thing that did cross my mind was how well the film would hit the mark with a young audience. Pixar films always have a vein of adult humour running throughout to keep us older ones entertained, but they’re first and foremost children’s films. As such, I’m not sure if children will fully appreciate jokes based on university life. There’s still plenty of stuff for children to enjoy, but I don’t know if they’ll really get the maximum from it. Also, I don’t know if kids will properly understand the concept of a prequel. If your children have been to see it, please feel free to prove me wrong!
So for those worried that Pixar are on a slippery slope, Monsters University, at least for now, shows that they still have plenty in the ol’ think tank. Asking the film to live up to its predecessor was always going to be a near impossible task, but it does get about as close as you could hope for.
Pixar short: The Blue Umbrella
It’s been customary for quite some time now for Disney and Pixar to screen short films before their main features (which makes it even more annoying when people grumble about having to sit through them) and their latest, The Blue Umbrella, is quite simply one of the most stunning pieces of animation you’re likely to have seen.
The Blue Umbrella is about a, erm, blue umbrella who meets a red umbrella amongst a sea of black umbrellas. However, the two become separated, with our little blue friend desperate to get back to his new fancy ‘lady’.
In terms of narrative, The Blue Umbrella is very similar to Paper Man (shown before Wreck-it Ralph). In fact, it’s probably a little too similar; originality is something that has always set these shorts apart, but it’s lacking somewhat here. But it’s in the animation that the film really amazes. There are times when you really won’t believe this is an animated feature; only our blue and red protagonists are obviously animated, which adds something to the whimsicality of the picture.
Whilst it is disappointing that The Blue Umbrella lacks a little something in originality, it’s still a delightful short and the perfect appetiser before the main feature.