Pixar films are much more than just an animated studio, it is arguable the greatest movie studio around. They set the gold standard for quality films, and how to tell a story that was compelling to people of all ages. They made us laugh, they made us cry, and they made us jump for joy. DreamWorks, Blue Sky, and other companies can’t compare, even companies that make live action films can’t compare. The “Toy Story” Trilogy, “A Bug’s Life” (1998), “Monsters Inc” (2001), “Finding Nemo” (2004), “Up” (2009), the list goes on and on. The weakest of their films was the first “Cars” (2006) and even that wasn’t bad, just not as good as the rest.
However, Pixar has recently been slipping. They had never made a bad film until “Cars 2” (2011) came out to poor critical reviews and fan disappointment everywhere. It snapped the streak that was impossible to maintain. 11 movies it stood and now it fell. But many of us kept high hopes they would return to their usual form with the next year’s film, “Brave” (2012). Although that film is a significant step up from “Cars 2”, it still wasn’t what we were used to seeing from Pixar. The film was generally accepted into the Pixar legion of movies and would go on to win Best Animated Film at the Academy Awards, an award that many felt Disney’s “Wreck it Ralph” (2012) should have won. Even with the Oscar, it still couldn’t enter the realm of some other Pixar films, and some predicted that this might be the downfall of the studio. The next few films would seem to be a make it or break it for Pixar, to see if they can return back to what some are already calling, “The Golden Age of Pixar.” For their latest film, they returned back to one of their best, “Monsters Inc” (2001), and make their first ever prequel “Monsters University” (2013). I am happy to report that not only is this Pixar film better than their previous two but it is also a return to form for Pixar, and they craft one of the best movies of the year.
Set before “Monster Inc”, this film shows Mike going off to Monster’s University with dreams of becoming the greatest “scarer” of all time, and is willing to work harder than anyone else to achieve that dream. Mike starts a rivalry with his future best friend Sully, who hopes to make it through school with minimal work because of his family name. After an incident involving them, they both get kicked out of the scare-ing school and the only way to get back in is if they win the scare games, where they team up with a band of misfit monsters that aren’t very scary. They will have to learn to work with one another in order to achieve their common goal and dream.
The plot doesn’t sound like much nor does it sound original, but everything lies in the execution of the story. We’ve all seen this played out before, “the losers vs. the champs” storyline, only this time it’s set with monsters. At times the story can get a little formulaic and stumble into territory that we’ve all seen before, but most of the time the film stands tall and high above the clichéd plotline and crafts the movie into something more than it is. Just when the film seems like it’s over, there is a big dramatic twist that ventures the film into the almost classic Pixar status. It’s a twist no one sees coming, and coming off the heels of an incredible suspenseful scene, it keeps the tension high and will make the whole air in the theater go deftly quiet. The movie also perfectly leads into the original “Monster Inc” and sets the stage up for those events, even if some of it felt more like fan service than actually plot development. By the end, you will be surprised on how unpredictable the film actually was considering the main plot isn’t that original, and how much you will be invested into this story.
The main focus of this movie is the evolution of Mike and Sully. Their relationship is what holds this film together and gives it the heart that it has. “Monsters Inc” had the character of Boo to hold that film together. This one couldn’t rely on that and had to find other means to make this movie work. The script is really smart and actually has their conflicting personalities bounce off one another, while their friendship forms slowly and it never feels forced at all. Sully is actually a jerk at the beginning of the story and Mike is a book smart nerd who thinks he knows it all. As the movie continues, they both change slowly, and never once was it forced and I applaud the screenwriters for that.
The movie has also got quite the cast of great supporting characters. Squishy, Terry, Don, Professor Knight, Dean Hardscrabble, and of course the most memorable new character without a doubt in my mind is the purple monster named Art. This is classic Pixar character craftsmanship. He is funny, warm and the character design is pretty interesting as well. One of the returning characters is Randall, and it’s actually interesting to see him evolve into what he would become in “Monsters Inc”. I do think there should have been a little more of him seen, but it might have taken away from other aspects of the story.
The movie has got plenty of laughs throughout that both kids and adults can enjoy. The comedic timing of the movie is perfect and always spot on. Unlike “Brave” (2012) where it didn’t have many laughs in contrast with the film’s story, this has got the perfect amount. Is it as funny as past offerings from the studio? No not quite, it doesn’t quite reach those heights of comedy, but that being said, the movie is still very funny and will have kids and adults laughing.
One thing I haven’t yet touched upon is the beautiful animation in this film. Pixar animators are at the top of their craft and even in “Cars 2” (2011) the animation was amazing, this film is no different. All the monsters are unique, and the background, lighting, and the buildings are incredible just to look at.
The fear that Pixar can’t make movies like their old ones anymore is mostly floated out of my head with this one. “The Good Dinosaur” (2014) will be the one to show people that Pixar is still very consistent and can make these near perfect movies year after year. For “Monsters University” (2013) however, this encompasses everything that made Pixar wonderful all these years with great characters, heart, gorgeous animation and most importantly, story. Even though the story may feel very familiar at times, Pixar makes something that is familiar, different. This may not be as good as the classic “Monsters Inc” (2001), but this is another Pixar winner and is one of the best of the year.