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 28, 2016
We here in the Cream City certainly know Kent Knapp, the Milwaukee Blacksmith. Now, thanks to a new History Channel TV show, the entire nation will know about him. Watch the first preview for his new reality-based show right here.
Published July 25, 2016
Comic-Con had a lot to reveal this past weekend, from Marvel and DC, to movies and television, "The Walking Dead" and Netflix's superhero shows, a new Blair Witch and some insanely vulgar food. Here's the important stuff to know.
Published July 24, 2016
Sequels are not why we love Pixar, why that name for many has become seemingly a genre of its own and a deeply trusted one at that. But, as "Finding Dory" proves, while sequels may not be what Pixar does best, they still do them better than most.
Published July 21, 2016
Boston and Styx may not be the first things that come to mind when you think of Italian culture and heritage. But what Bostyx lacks in Italian cred, they hope to make up for in rocking classic tunes at their Festa Italiana set this weekend.
Published July 20, 2016
2016 tragically claimed yet another entertainment giant Tuesday, as television and film writer-producer-director Garry Marshall passed away in Burbank, Calif., at the age of 81, from complications of pneumonia following a stroke.
Published July 19, 2016
Deadline Hollywood reported this morning that Netflix ordered another season of the now Emmy-nominated docu-series and that it is currently in production under the watch of returning executive producer/director tandem Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos.
Published July 14, 2016
Before he comes to The Pabst Theater on Monday night, we chatted with legendary film director John Carpenter about his new tour, his new music, his newfound critical appreciation and the new "Halloween" movie he'll help bring to life.
Published July 12, 2016
"The Secret Life of Pets" sounds so much like it was cribbed from Pixar's notes, it's hard to believe Pixar didn't make it first - until you replace "pets" with "toys" and realize they did. Considering the fluffy 90-minute result, though, you likely won't mind.
Published July 11, 2016
Did you have a good weekend? Yes? Well, Milwaukeean and Adele fan Kathleen Dohearty's was better, as she got to join the crooning pop star on stage for a duet of "Someone Like You" last night in Chicago.
Published July 10, 2016
Upon first glance, there wouldn't seem to be much common ground between Saturday night's co-headliners Weezer and Panic! At the Disco. And after Saturday night ... yeah, there wasn't much. But that doesn't mean they didn't put on a heck of a show.