Chris' Review of Monsters University
Monsters University is hands down the best animated film of the year. From its stellar voicecast to its multifaceted characters to its witty script to its game-changing animation style, it seemingly has it all. Somehow, though, it still felt a little bland. Allow me to explain.
Pixar, as most of the world knows, was unstoppable for a long time. A streak of 11 incredible films, each finding its place in the pantheon of classics. Each one captures a sense of imaginative wonder and adventure, but no two are the same. Each one is immediately accessible through its brilliantly rendered universe and relatable themes, but NO TWO are the same. What made Pixar unique and seemingly unstoppable was not the immediate quality of its films; Monsters University has that in spades. Pixar was special because each film introduced a new universe for its audience to marvel at and long to be a part of. A world where toys secretly live and breathe. A world where bugs struggle to find their place in society. A world where superheroes live in hiding amidst us Muggles. These worlds were the childhood dreams that I never even had. It was as if Pixar could visually render the parts of our imaginations that we can't even access ourselves. Each one of those 11 films truly is an original masterpiece. Toy Story 2 and 3 did not merely capitalize upon the success of their predecessors. Each one of those films introduced us to new environments but made them accessible through the familiarity of old characters.
The issue with Monsters University is that it isn't a new world. It's not a brilliant allegory for the formative years of people's lives. It's a direct copy of those years. The Pixar team clearly has fun in this film taking stereotypes of the college experience (fraternity life, dorm living, etc.) and "monsterfying" them to make them fit into the world they so brilliantly rendered in 2001's Monsters Inc. While this provides for some good laughs and is a thematic element I can certainly relate to as a rising college freshman, it does not create a new world for the viewers. It capitalizes on the familiarity of the real world. It's a gimmick that is below Pixar.
That being said, if anyone can come close to pulling off such a gimmick, it's Pixar. The studio fills the world of MU with hilarious characters and spot-on Monsterfications of real-life college archetypes. What's more, the studio gets to an incredibly resonate theme that is deeper than it initially seems. As children, and especially as Americans, we're embedded with this idyllic belief that we can attain anything or be anyone if we work hard enough at it. Monsters University explores the reality of that misnomer: sometimes we're just not cut out for it and life will throw insurmountable roadblocks at us. That message really stuck with me and has cemented Mike Wazowski's status as one of my favorite Pixar characters. A truly brilliant theme that I can't applaud Pixar for enough.
If it had utilized the "New World" element, Monsters University would have been an outstanding return to form for Pixar. That being said, it's certainly a gigantic step in the right direction from Brave and Cars 2. Powerful themes and witty dialog abound, making MU one of the best animated films in recent memory.