Monsters U doesn't come through

Monsters U doesn't come through

Prequel sequel lack’s original inspiration

By Tim Pompey 06/27/2013

Monsters University
Directed by Dan Scanlon
Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren
Rated G for all audiences
1 hr. 50 min.

12 years ago, kids and adults alike were delighted by Monsters, Inc. It had all the essential Pixar elements:  beautiful color, strong characters, an adorable little girl named Boo and a sparkling script filled with humor and warmth.

Monsters University is a decent try at catching that same kind of magic, but unfortunately, even though it has some good moments, there are not quite enough of them to rank it as one of Pixar’s classics.

Pixar has dealt with this kind of sequel letdown before. Toy Story 2 was basically a repeat of its predecessor, and Cars 2 was just plain awful. It shows that, for all their success, Disney and Pixar are still human. Call Monsters U a good college try, but not quite up to snuff.

The initial problem is that the pacing in this film begins too slowly and takes a good half-hour or so to get rolling. The opening feels more drawn out than necessary, as if, in order to tell the story of Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman), director Dan Scanlon felt compelled to provide a long explanatory sequence for the audience.

The fun finally begins when Mike and Sulley first meet at the university’s Scarer School, then get thrown together as members of the campus losers fraternity known as Oozma Kappa. It’s a good move because the two of them start off their relationship on rocky footing — Mike as the overachieving nerd, Sulley as the bigheaded showoff.

They’re not friends. In fact, as scary rivals, they don’t even like each other. They both want to be professional “scarers,” but each has his own style and neither appreciates the other’s approach.

Pixar’s unique talent is in creating underdog characters that you can root for. In this case, the story’s strength is in joining members of Oozma Kappa with Mike and Sulley. Outside of Sulley, none of them (including Mike) could scare even the most nervous church mouse. It’s a comedy of errors that pull them together, and some of their efforts are very funny.

Director Scanlon and writer Robert Baird create a rooting interest for each of these characters and in doing so, sharpen the eventual friendship between Mike and Sulley. In particular, the ending seems to successfully capture some emotional depth:  disappointment, jealousy, determination and, most important, forgiveness. It’s well-done both visually and emotionally and carries with it a surprise twist.

What weighs this film down is what you might call too much of a good thing. In the first film, the monsters themselves were joyfully surprising, each with its own distinct monster trait.

In Monsters University, you have an entire school of weird-looking creatures, so many that the supposed scariness and consequent humor of each wears thin. There are only so many ways you can create ugly funny characters before they stop being either ugly or funny.

In addition, many of the monsters feel like stereotypes used solely as opposition for Oozma Kappa. These include the usual campus jocks, cheerleaders and partiers who are necessary in order to fill up a campus. The trouble is, they only feel as if they’re there to fill space. Outside of Mike, Sulley and members of Oozma Kappa, none of them is terribly interesting or funny.

Monsters University has some good parts, but doesn’t work as a whole the way the original did. It feels more like an excuse to make a film rather than an inspired offering.

Yes, I laughed in some spots and even rooted for Oozma Kappa, but I wasn’t pulled in and absorbed as I have been with some of Pixar’s better works. As the Kung Fu Panda series proves, a sequel requires double the effort to improve on the original. In this case, Pixar didn’t quite make the grade.


Other Stories by Tim Pompey

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