Monday, 13 January 2014

Monsters University

Monsters University
Dan Scanlon // 2013 // 104 mins

One of my biggest film related pet peeves is the unnecessary sequel, and one of the biggest culprits of this trend has been Disney. From Cinderella to Brother Bear Disney has produced a sequel for almost every one of their more popular animated features, and I have actively avoided the majority of these films. So when Pixar began producing sequels to some of their films I was worried that I was going to have to begin avoiding more films, this time from a company that has been producing some of the best animated films of the past two decades. Luckily the first film the company chose to make a franchise of, Toy Story, was a great success. This was followed by Cars, the one film above all of their others that least appealed to me and so I lost no sleep over missing out on that addition to Pixar's collection, but when my favourite Pixar film, Monsters Inc, got opted for the prequel treatment I took issue and did not have high hopes.

Monsters University is the story of Mike and Sulley's first meeting as students of scaring, and charts the development of the friendship between them that led to their becoming the most notorious scarring team working for Monsters Inc. When an initial conflict between the pair leads to them both being kicked off of the scaring program they are forced to team up with a group of other failed scarers and participate in the Scare Games, a campus competition that will win them the ability to return to their course as well as the respect of their peers. The film reunites Billy Crystal and John Goodman as the popular duo, with Steve Buscemi returning as Randall and brings in a slew of new characters, all successfully voiced by the likes of Helen Mirren, Nathan Fillion, Charlie Day and Aubrey Plaza.

It is clear in the plot of Monsters University that Pixar were striving to deliver something that would challenge and exceed any viewer expectations. There are a number of instances where the film feels as though it is heading in a very traditional and clich├ęd direction, and every time the story then mixes things up, changing the path of the story and does this to great success. Pixar know that as this film is a prequel most people will go into Monsters University fairly confident in their knowledge of how things will turn out, and the team have worked hard to ensure that those viewers are kept on their toes. On top of this the film is an incredibly fun representation of the Uni lifestyle that, much like Toy Story 3, has come at a time that is particularly appropriate to me and created a sufficient sense of nostalgia (even if I did only leave University last May) to heighten my enjoyment of the film considerably.  Where the story is slightly less successful is in it's failure to deliver a strong origin to the intense rivalry Mike and Sulley have with Randall. While there are certainly heavy implications as to the roots of their conflict, the proposed reasoning for Randall's hatred of the pair feels undeveloped and pushed out of sight for much of the film.

The film is consistently funny and rarely misses a beat, providing a good number of belly-laugh moments and featuring a homage to Carrie that is as perfectly executed as it is unexpected. As has become expected of Pixar, the screenplay is very clever in it's humour and is full of wit that will entertain adults just as soon as the younger viewers. As expected, the animation is of the high quality that has become customary of Pixar. In particular the University's campus and environments are especially well rendered, providing vibrant and incredibly detailed backdrops for this story to take place in. Furthermore the vast array of colourful characters that inhabit this world show that there is no chance of the design team running out of imaginitive ideas any time soon. Pixar are constantly developing their style and with every new release show their resilience to get comfortable in their abilities, this is a team of animators that are constantly pushing to improve upon any standards of animation that they have previously set.

Monsters University is a prime example of Pixar's undisputed world-building abilities. The film is host to the clever dialogue and stunning animation that has become standard for the company and consistently surprises and entertains. It may not be Pixar's strongest output but a weaker Pixar film is still better than most, and more importantly the film never feels like a needless expansion of an already closed story as I was fearful that it would.

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