Itâ€™s not quite fair to say that Pixar is currently on a losing streak â€¦ but Pixarâ€™s on a bit of a losing streak. "Cars 2" was the first feature in the studioâ€™s history to fail to get a Best Animated Feature nomination. It was also the first Pixar feature to feel like a movie for kids. "Brave" was better, but it wasnâ€™t exactly a gleaming return to form, and the behind-the-scenes creative disputes involving Brenda Chapman, the filmâ€™s original director, made it seem all the more like Pixarâ€™s shining lamplight of quality was starting to flicker.
At the same time, it doesnâ€™t feel right to call these past two films a losing streak because these movies arenâ€™t terrible or even simply bad. Theyâ€™re just okay. But after over a decade of creating groundbreaking, emotionally complex stories that satisfied audiences young and old, mediocrity feels like a massive disappointment.
As a result, Pixar is going back to the drawing board for their 14th film. 2001â€™s drawing board to be precise, as they make a prequel to one of their earliest entries, "Monsters Inc." "Monsters University" still wonâ€™t qualify as one of their finest features, but it might be up there with some of their funniest.
Billy Crystal and John Goodman (heâ€™s everywhere!) return to their roles as Mike Wazowski and Sulley. The boys are in college this time around, both aspiring scare students though from far different backgrounds. Sulley is the son of a famous MU alum and plans to glide his way through school; Mike is a book fiend, hoping to study his way into achieving his childhood dream of becoming a famous scarer (John Krasinski briefly voices his idol).
The two predictably clash at first, eventually breaking their chilly professorâ€™s (Helen Mirren, voicing a creepy flying centipede) treasured scare tank and getting kicked out of the scare program. Their only hope to get back into the school is to win a Greek life scaring contest held by the frats and sororities on campus. The snootiest of the bunch, Roar Omega Roar â€“ led by Nathan Fillion of "Firefly" and "Castle" â€“ rejects the duo, forcing Mike and Sulley to team up with the ragtag misfits of Oozma Kappa.
I completely understand if you just read that plot synopsis and rolled your eyes. Yes, the "underdog slobs vs. snobs" plot is not exactly plunging the depths of originality, especially if weâ€™re doing it in an educational setting.
"Monsters University" earns a passing grade, however, because it fills its standard-issue story with plenty of endearing, earnest characters and hilarious collegiate antics. Crystal and Goodman still make for an entertaining duo, and their Oozma Kappa brothers Ââ€“ ranging from the hippie-ish Art (Charlie Day) to Don, a middle-aged salesman (Joel Murray) â€“ are constantly amusing company. Pixar always manages to find the perfect voices for their characters as well. Theyâ€™re never showy; theyâ€™re just right.
It might take a bit for the film to get its comedic legs under it, but when it does, it delivers some of Pixarâ€™s funniest material since Mr. Tortilla Head in "Toy Story 3," sometimes with something as simple as a perfect facial expression.
Maybe itâ€™s because Iâ€™m a recent graduate myself, but the college-themed jokes and setting â€“ brought to vibrant life by Pixar's typically gorgeous and detailed animation â€“ hit just the right spot. From Randy Newmanâ€™s score fueled by marching band and drumline numbers to the first tour of the university, complete with plentiful instructional packets and overly chipper RAs, I was happily on board.
The film never quite reaches the emotional grace notes of the studioâ€™s best (to be fair, the first ten minutes of "Up" are going to be near impossible to beat). A late turn of events does deliver a surprisingly heavy message â€“ that sometimes, despite all your efforts, your dreams and goals can stay out of reach â€“ for a kids movie. But even with that mildly powerful realization, "Monsters University" is still a light affair, focused mostly on sheer entertainment. Pixar's breezier efforts, however, are still more satisfying than the bland, hyper-kinetic animated features typically churned out by other animation studios.
If it was a college class, it would be the fun easy A class that last-semester seniors would happily take and probably show up for. Probably.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published July 24, 2015
At first glance, Ellington Ratliff may seem like the odd man in the pop rock band R5. He's the only one who's not a member of the Lynch family. He's the only one with a first name that doesn't begin with R (Riker, Rocky, Ross and Rydel make up the rest), and he's the only bandmate not born and raised in Colorado. Instead, Ratliff was born out in Los Angeles and split time in Wisconsin, making the band's Riverside gig Friday night a return of sorts.
Published July 23, 2015
If the last two days have proven anything, it's that Milwaukee will freaking lose their mind over the mere idea of a lion. At least, local movie fans Stephen Milek and Christopher Kai House certainly hope that is the case, as the two film buffs attempt to bring the notoriously insane 1981 thriller/borderline snuff film "Roar" to town.
Published July 22, 2015
Bookended by AJ Bombers and Water Street Brewery, Water Street is famous for three Bs: bars, burgers and bros. The tightly packed combination of those things has made the area a popular nighttime hot spot. Yet amongst all of the bars and clubs is something unexpected: A. Werner Silversmith, a buried treasure - quite literally considering its glass cases and shelves containing shimmering, beautifully repaired silver pieces - hiding in plain sight.
Published July 20, 2015
Brooklyn-based indie band Lazyeyes guitarist and singer Jason Abrishami has never been to Milwaukee - let alone any part of the Midwest really. He admits he hasn't even heard that much about the Cream City, but he'll learn about the city firsthand Wednesday night when the band and its shoegaze-laced dream rock makes its maiden trip to the city via a gig at The Mad Planet.
Published July 19, 2015
Tarsem Singh is a man who spent about four years and much of his own money traveling the globe's most outrageously beautiful locales in order to make his magnum opus "The Fall." So how'd he end up standing behind the camera of "Self/Less," an utterly anonymous and impact-free immortality action-thriller that - much like the fresh if not quite new bodies being peddled in the film - seems "alive only in the most basic sense"?
Published July 18, 2015
What if? It's two simple words, not even adding up 10 letters, but that seemingly innocent question has likely haunted every single person that's walked this planet at some point or another. And it's a question that fascinates Milwaukee native Cynthia Swanson, so much so that she made that idea the cornerstone for her debut novel, "The Bookseller."
Published July 17, 2015
Every band has at least a small group of devoted fans cheering it on and supporting it on its way to the spotlight. The retro "nu-wop" family band The Bronx Wanderers, coming to Festa Italiana this weekend, is no different - except some of those devoted fans just happen to be entertainment icons from their hometown neighborhood, including Dion DiMucci, Tony Orlando and Oscar-nominated actors Chazz Palminteri and Danny Aiello.
Published July 15, 2015
When Festa Italiana starts up this Friday at Henry Maier Festival Park, many will flock down to the lakefront to gulp down some real authentic Italian food and wine. Yet some of the most revered tastes of Italian culture coming to town this weekend are wholly inedible: the lovingly crafted and almost identical replicas of the country's most famous sites - this year including a 50-foot duplicate of the iconic Trevi Fountain.
Published July 12, 2015
Whenever some pop cultural hallmark gets a shiny new Hollywood remake or reboot, the Internet's response is always the same, to the point that you might as well give it its own key on the keyboard: "They're destroying my childhood!" In all cases, it's complete hyperbolic fanboy spazzing - all, except for maybe the case of "Terminator: Genisys" (the silly bonus y nicely echoing my main line of thought while watching the movie).
Published July 11, 2015
Channing Tatum must've heard your laments concerning the first "Magic Mike" film and brought most of the gang back together for "Magic Mike XXL," the best possible version of the sexy, silly male stripper movie audiences thought they were getting the first time though.