It’s not quite fair to say that Pixar is currently on a losing streak … but Pixar’s on a bit of a losing streak. "Cars 2" was the first feature in the studio’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 wasn’t exactly a gleaming return to form, and the behind-the-scenes creative disputes involving Brenda Chapman, the film’s original director, made it seem all the more like Pixar’s shining lamplight of quality was starting to flicker.
At the same time, it doesn’t feel right to call these past two films a losing streak because these movies aren’t terrible or even simply bad. They’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. 2001’s drawing board to be precise, as they make a prequel to one of their earliest entries, "Monsters Inc." "Monsters University" still won’t qualify as one of their finest features, but it might be up there with some of their funniest.
Billy Crystal and John Goodman (he’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 professor’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 – led by Nathan Fillion of "Firefly" and "Castle" – 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 we’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 – ranging from the hippie-ish Art (Charlie Day) to Don, a middle-aged salesman (Joel Murray) – are constantly amusing company. Pixar always manages to find the perfect voices for their characters as well. They’re never showy; they’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 Pixar’s funniest material since Mr. Tortilla Head in "Toy Story 3," sometimes with something as simple as a perfect facial expression.
Maybe it’s because I’m a recent graduate myself, but the college-themed jokes and setting – brought to vibrant life by Pixar's typically gorgeous and detailed animation – hit just the right spot. From Randy Newman’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 studio’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 – that sometimes, despite all your efforts, your dreams and goals can stay out of reach – 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 April 26, 2015
Adapted from the 2005 memoir of the same name, "True Story" plays like an intriguingly well-paved road to nowhere. The movie certainly presents plenty of interesting pieces: two actors - Jonah Hill and James Franco - playing against type but perfectly cast, a post-Oscar nomination Felicity Jones and a bizarre real story. Part by part, it's fairly engaging, but when it comes time to add everything together, the final sum is as nondescript as its title.
Published April 23, 2015
Lord Huron doesn't quite trek to the stars like it said it might on its new album "Strange Trails," but the folk band is still going places. Its dreamy musical vistas have nabbed a big audience -- so much so that demand moved the band's return to The Pabst Theater on Saturday, April 25 over to the Riverside. Before then, I got a chance to chat with frontman Ben Schneider about "Strange Trails," the stories that come with it and going to space (at some point).
Published April 22, 2015
I've had some less than flattering things to say about found footage in recent years, calling it things like "the worst of today's low budget Hollywood filmmaking" and "a thing that shouldn't exist anymore." So let's all take a moment and marvel at the fact that in the new techno-horror flick "Unfriended," the found footage-esque visual gimmick not only works, but it's the best part of the movie. The result isn't much for scares, but it is scarily entertaining.
Published April 21, 2015
Welcome back to Unceremonious Overqualified Movie Dump Theatre. The most recent entry: "Child 44," which features an impressive roster of stars but was cut down to a mere 510 theaters just a few weeks before its release. It was a bad omen and unfortunately an accurate one as well, as the apparent lack of confidence from the studio equals a lack of quality on the screen.
Published April 20, 2015
The Maine is currently on the road right now, touring in support of its latest album "American Candy," released just last month on March 31. Its current tour lands at The Rave on Wednesday, April 22. Before then, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with guitarist Jared Monaco about the new album, as well as his appreciation for The Rave and ... NSYNC.
Published April 18, 2015
Before the fairy tale riff "Peter and the Starcatcher" starts its run at the Milwaukee Rep on Tuesday, April 21, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with director Blake Robison about this particular Peter Pan retelling, making actors fly and why revisionist fairy tales are currently all the rage.
Published April 17, 2015
The Wisconsin State Fair's Main Stage lineup this summer features some of the biggest names the celebration has wrangled up in recent note. And the biggest of the bunch - or at least certainly the most unusual - is tightrope artist extraordinaire Nik Wallenda. OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to talk one-on-one with the stuntman about preparing for another life-threatening performance and being in a highwire family dynasty that shows no sign of stopping.
Published April 17, 2015
The Riverside's distant past will become the present as the legendary theater will play host to two screenings of the beloved 1942 classic "Casablanca" Friday and Saturday night. And to complete the blast to the past vibe of the event, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will perform Max Steiner's famous score alongside the movie.
Published April 15, 2015
Eugene Ionesco's 1950 play "The Bald Soprano" - the first the famed playwright ever wrote - is an absurdist classic. It's one of the most performed shows in France with a permanent repertory spot at Theatre de la Huchette since 1957 and a large number of interpretations. It's safe to say, however, that few to none of those interpretations featuring digital actors getting beamed in like "Star Trek" characters.
Published April 14, 2015
The Blue Man Group is famous for several things: funky instruments, those old Intel ads, Tobias Funke proclaiming that "I blue myself!" on "Arrested Development" and, of course, the whole being covered in blue paint thing. But one of the crucial elements of the Blue Man Group is that they don't talk. So imagine my surprise in getting to interview a Blue Man (at least the transcription would be easy).