Thursday, July 4, 2013

Monsters University - **1/2

Outside of making gobs of money for Disney, selling Mike and Sully dolls to a new generation, Monsters University has no reason for existing. We didn't need to revisit these characters any more than we needed an update on the adventures of Lightning McQueen and his buck-toothed car buddy in Disney's Cars 2.

A few years ago Disney acquired Pixar and they have not wasted any time in taming and sanitizing the once-invincible animation house, stripping it of everything that made it great: innovation, creativity, and a boundless sense of wonder, leaving them to languish in the doldrums of generic storytelling and cash-grab sequels. With Monsters University, it seems that Pixar has surrendered whatever control they were still grasping onto. If not for the brilliantly inspired short that plays before MU, I'd say Pixar's creative muscle has atrophied; Pixar almost seems to be making a deliberate effort not to create a unique or even memorable film, making MU feel more like a naive act of defiance at having to spend three years producing it than the joyous splendor that its far superior predecessor, Monsters Inc., was.

That said, MU isn't the worst film out there, nor is it an ugly piece of animation; even in his sleep, Bobby Fischer is still going to beat you and nine other people simultaneously in a game of Chess. It's bright, crisp, and pleasantly entertaining... Everything you'd expect out of a direct-to-video sequel (okay, prequel), only they released it in theaters and had the audacity to put it in 3D and charge a few more dollars for a useless extra dimension. But even as cynical as I was about the whole thing I found myself giggling throughout the entire film; most of the jokes land, even if it is because Pixar wasn't aiming very high in the first place, opting to play it very, very safe rather than reaching for the stars, as they so boldly used to do. It may sound hypocritical and contradictory to follow such a take down with the confession that I enjoyed MU, but the fact is that I really do love these characters; not wanting another adventure with them is just a reflection of my desire for new characters to love, characters I know Pixar is more than capable of producing.

The success of the Toy Story sequels seems to have cursed Pixar into revisiting the rest of their catalogue. But where they were able to translate our natural connection to toys and our ever-changing relationship to them as we grow older into a meaningful and beautiful piece of entertainment that wasn't afraid to explore deeper issues, MU fails exponentially to come anywhere near that, with its monster-tailored college cliches and don't-judge-a-book-by-its-cover theme. Mike and Sully join fraternity Oozma Kappa (abbreviated "OK" for a solid (perhaps meta?) pun on mediocrity), but what does Greek life actually mean to monsters who don't know who the Greeks are, anyway? Roughly the same as what Monsters University actually means to me... Ultimately nothing.