The studio’s newest production, Monster’s University, is a prequel to 2001’s much better Monsters, Inc. It chronicles Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) meeting James Sullivan (John Goodman) in college. Initially at odds with each other because they were heavily edited to fit snugly into conflicting stereotypes, the duo bands together to win their way back into the school’s scare major after being kicked out by Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren).
The movie isn’t particularly bad, but it continues Pixar’s string of mediocre productions that could leave older fans wanting. After the studio’s initial decade churning out knockout hit after knockout hit, they seem to have hit a bit of a wall, focusing on sequels that are not The Incredibles 2.
Monsters University will do what it’s supposed to do — occupy small children. The creatures are colorful and mostly non-threatening, though Hardscrabble is quite sinister. The antics are wacky enough, the situations are silly enough, and the pace is fast enough to keep kids entertained.
It really is a shame though that’s all the movie tries to do. As recently as 2009’s Up, the studio was moving grown men to tears, and now they’ve made the cinematic equivalent of a rattle. The film’s lack of ambition is in stark contrast to its brilliant advertising campaign, which included an entire school website trying to get people to register for the titular college.
For parents who think their children are particularly impressionable, I would actually steer them away from this movie because of how heavily it reinforces stereotypes and because of the muddled, poor messages it sends. Sullivan’s entitlement doesn’t pay off, but neither does Wazowski’s hard work. At no point do the main characters succeed outright. I don’t think every movie has to ascribe to a particular moral code, but for a movie that doesn’t really have entertainment value past pre-school, this one is kind of sketchy.
Background characters (along with the college itself) exist only to affirm stereotypes, something the film heavily relies on instead of actually developing its characters. Even the don’t-fit-in-to-a-broad-category group the audience is supposed to sympathize with because you like to think you don’t fit into a broad category is filled with caricatures.
Monsters University is a movie I wouldn’t take kids to, but also a movie that was designed specifically to entertain kids. Kind of a Catch-22.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a staff writer for the NT Daily. He’d like to congratulate the 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for. Be sure to come back next week for a review of The Lone Ranger.