Monsters University - Cinema Review

'pure “teach-your-kids-about-how-the-world-actually-is” gold'

After the mediocre Cars 2 and the enjoyable but safe Brave, Monsters University sees Pixar coming very close to a return to form. “Form” for cinema’s premier animation studio is WALL-E, Up and - the most recent example - Toy Story 3. It’s a high bar Pixar have set themselves, but a bar they have in the past consistently not only reached but also pushed higher and higher. Monsters University is ultimately a film with profound heart, which is the key to how it succeeds where Cars 2 and Brave failed.

Not that this emotional core becomes apparent until somewhere towards the end of Monsters University’s second act. We get a cute, somewhat touching pre-credits prologue in which a young Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) is inspired to become a “scarer” during a school trip to (where else?) Monsters, Incorporated. However, once the action starts proper the film feels a little too much like Pixar enjoying being back on familiar, successful turf but never really stretching themselves.

Much of the university and its inhabitants are beautifully realised and humorous enough, but as Pixar introduces us to more and more of this new corner of the monsters’ world it becomes increasingly apparent that MU is never quite as engaging or impassioned as Monstropolis and its famous factory. It’s important to keep in mind the extremely high bar Monsters, Inc. set for its prequel, however: on its own merits Monsters University’s first half is genuinely entertaining and far more well-crafted than the vast majority of rival animation studios’ output.

But then, as the film’s second act draws to a close, Monsters University reveals its true form and starts tugging on your heartstrings the way only Pixar at their best can. It’s no coincidence that this happens at the same moment where Mike and Sulley (John Goodman) really start to click, having spent the preceding hour as rivals. True, Mike versus Sulley provides plenty of fresh comedic ground for Crystal and Goodman to explore, but it’s when the two characters genuinely arrive on the same page that the film truly comes into itself. Monsters University contains some of the most emotionally refined dialogue performed in any Pixar film, and the tense finale is some of the studio’s finest work, genuinely breaking new ground within the Monsters franchise in inspired fashion.

Perhaps most surprising and ambitious about the heart at the centre of Monsters University is the message it puts across: just because you want something more than anything else, it doesn’t mean that that’s what you should get. It’s a refreshing moral which most animated films - indeed most Hollywood output - wouldn’t dare to put across, but which director Dan Scanlon crafts and relates perfectly. This is pure “teach-your-kids-about-how-the-world-actually-is” gold. If Monsters University maintained this level of sophistication and originality for it’s entire running time, Pixar could have matched the success of their finest films here. Taking Monsters University as the film of two halves it ends up as, this is very good - occasionally outstanding - but undeniably imperfect.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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