Since making grown men cry like babies in 2009’s Up and turning us all into softies in the final scenes of 2010’s Toy Story 3, Pixar has been experiencing a slow but steady decline. Cars 2 was a disappointment and last year’s Brave was shockingly underwhelming, despite its huge budget. Unfortunately the trend continues with Monsters University, a prequel that is emotionally inert and charmless compared to Pixar’s earlier work.
The silver lining here is that even a disappointing Pixar film is significantly better than most other animation films. The bonus of Monsters University is that you get to revisit your favourite characters, even though you know they are on screen to sell toys and T shirts to kids off screen. The plot of the prequel is frustratingly simplistic - Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) are youngsters who become friends at Monsters University’s Scare School in the hope of becoming professional scarers. Mike is the obvious loud overachiever while Sully is the underachieving Moose. Majority of the film chronicles their contrasting personalities to whip out the clichéd themes of friendship in unlikely circumstances. The disappointment would not be this stark had this film either been direct to DVD or made by another studio, but Pixar has set the bar so high that you expect a film of theirs to be different, and entertaining to both kids and adults.
The failure of Monsters University can be dissected with a simple scrutiny of the product. The original Monsters Inc was made by Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich and David Silverman and they went on to make Up, Toy Story 3 and The Simpsons Movie, all of which turned out to be classics. This film is written by Dan Scanlon who wrote Cars, which was earlier the weakest Pixar film, and his lack of grasp over story and characters is only too obvious. There were around a hundred standout scenes in Monsters Inc and so many characters, like the little Boo for example, who remained ingrained in our memory forever. Monsters University does not have even one scene or laugh or character that makes you feel like it has the worthy DNA of the original movie. What Monsters University does feel like is one of those dozen or so cash grab sequels and prequels of Aladdin and Lion King that almost killed Disney, and the results of Pixar being taken over by that company are now showing. The animation is gold standard, as is expected from Pixar but yet again the 3D feels like being punched in the eyes.
Pixar did prove with the Toy Story movies that they can make great sequels, but the expectations for Finding Dory now remain low. Hopefully the discontent of the past three years will be erased with the studio’s very intriguing upcoming movies – one about a Dinosaur and the other that is set entirely inside a young girl’s mind.
(First published in MiD Day)