Naftali Burakovsky, left, and Lorenzo Venneri

 

Scribble Works Reviews

By LORENZO VENNERI and NAFTALI BURACOVSKY

 

Monsters University

 

Pixar: Losing the Midas Touch

 

Here is a list: The Incredibles, Wall-E, Ratatouille, Toy Story, and Monsters University. Can you find the black sheep? While the first four are remarkable works of film, the latter is not. Pixar has always been known for creating wonderfully original works of animation that stole both the audience’s hearts and their money. Half of this trend seems to be coming to an end. Pixar is on a string of mediocrity with Cars 2 and Brave, and although Monsters University is an enjoyable film, it has little of Pixar’s magic. This, however, is an unfair standard. On its own, Monsters University is a solid film that kids will certainly enjoy.

Monster’s University, directed by Dan Scanlon, is the prequel to the highly successful Monsters Inc., telling the story of Mike and Sully’s early days of college and the advent of their friendship, although, according to Monsters Inc. the two became friends in grammar school. The story, unfortunately, is far too conventional. Mike and Sully, introduced as foils, must overcome their differences and team up to win a college-wide competition. It’s like The Internship, but with monsters, and for little kids. Yet despite the overused cliches, this film was still enjoyable enough to watch, and Pixar managed to put a bit of original twists on some unoriginal cliches. Though the story is extremely cut-and-dried, this sort of routine worked well enough.

Being a Pixar film, Monsters University has its share of charm and entertainment, as well as impeccable visual animation, but it is never as surprisingly original as its predecessor Monsters Inc. In a vacuum, the film holds its worth. The story is mildly interesting, and certainly has its value in terms of portraying how a group of misfits can learn to believe in themselves and grow together. The characters we loved from Monsters Inc. are fun to see back on screen, and Sully and Mike complement each other well in terms of characterization, but it just isn’t as well scripted as the original. The dialogue and the other characters are insipid and simply put, lacking, though they worked to move the story along to its final act.

The final act is where this film really picks up and takes its chances. The last half hour really does a great deal to the overall impression of this film and finally felt like something we would expect from Pixar. However, the film had already defined itself by that time as only marginally artistic and disappointingly generic. Although Monsters University is an enjoyable film, it is not the film that returns Pixar to its original brilliance.

The cliched nature of this film plays into a larger theme at Pixar. Along with Monsters University, Pixar has recently created a deluge of sequels, prequels, and spin offs, and this will continue with the upcoming Planes, proving that even a studio as mighty as Pixar is mortal and can phase itself into artistic mediocrity. Where are the coffee table ideas that gave rise to animation classics like The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Wall-E? Why isn’t Pixar making brilliant animated films? The problem seems to lie in directorial leadership and writing. Where are John Lasseter and Brad Bird? And, more importantly, why is Pixar giving big jobs to “sequel-kings” like Dan Scanlon (Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea and 101 Dalmatians II). The answer is revealing. Rumor has it that a live action film is in the works at Pixar. And not just any live action film; a 250 million film directed by Brad Bird. With any luck, Pixar will surprise us with some live action before they bore us with yet another sequel, Finding Dory (or maybe Wall-F).

Monsters University felt like it was created only to fit a gap in release (Pixar always wants a big summer movie) and not a work that the studio cared about. Perhaps, we can’t expect originality from big companies, and Pixar has certainly become a big company now that it is part of Disney. It takes a rookie to create great ideas, to challenge the past, and to resist conforming. The young, hopeful and inspired Pixar of fifteen years ago was a company destined to fail. They were a handful of crazy young artists and computer animators trying to do the impossible. A group brought together by passion rather than money and fame. They didn’t sit on success and constantly provided innovation, never satisfied with what they made. But now they have an unbeatable record of box office hits. Pixar has nothing to prove. Rather, they continue to travel the path of tolerability, producing films that can only ever achieve a rating of Beta. All we can do is wait for the next Pixar, the next group of young dreamers foolish enough to think they can change the film industry.

 

Editor’s note: Lorenzo Venneri is a film student at Rice University. He does his best to give the most unbiased, honorable, and critical evaluation of any film. Naftali Burakovsky is an economics student at UCSD who has had a passion for film from a young age. He loves film, but always gives an honest and critical judgment to preserve the integrity of quintessential movies. Venneri and Burakovsky have been watching films together since they first became friends many years ago. Together, they are committed to letting you know what’s good and bad, what’s worth two hours of your time, and what isn’t. Direct contact: lorenzo.venneri@gmail.com