This week, we were invited to an advanced screening of Monsters University by Pixar Animation Studios, the follow-up to the Academy Award-winning Monsters Inc. The film is an enjoyable romp for all ages... but does "enjoyable" really cut it when you're paying through the nose? These days, a family trip to the cinema costs around $50 -- and that's if you forgo 3D and the snack bar. So the question is: does Pixar still have what it takes to put your bum in a seat?
Photo: Pixar Studios
Don't get us wrong; Pixar remains head-and-shoulders above the vast majority of its rivals when it comes to animated movies, but we can't help but feel a little of the magic has bled out of the studio. This is partly due to a recent outbreak of sequelitis.
Pixar used to be famous for capturing lightning in a bottle and then moving on to the next perfect storm. It refused to repeat itself with sequels, preferring to develop all-new stories and characters for each cinematic outing. (Tellingly, the only exception to this rule -- Toy Story 2 – was originally conceived as a direct-to-video project.)
Fast-forward to the present and Pixar’s output is starting to look depressingly samey: we’ve had two Toy Story sequels, Cars 2 (with a third installment on the way), a new Finding Nemo due out this year and even talk of a followup to The Incredibles and Brave. Once the champions of originality, it would appear Pixar has opted to trade in its lightning bottle for a well and bucket.
Monsters University is yet another IP re-tread, although this time we've been given the 'prequel' treatment. The film follows the earlier exploits of Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan (Billy Crystal and John Goodman, respectively) as they embark on a scaring competition at the titular Monsters University.
While I personally had a lot of fun with the film (the various college movie tropes are well handled), I don't think the premise works as well for children. Unlike in the first film, there's no human kid protagonist for them to latch onto and all the college in-jokes are likely to leave them cold. There's also a throwaway gag about incest. No really.
From an adult perspective, the plot is also pretty thread-bare compared to its predecessor: the stakes are much lower this time around and there's a lot less going on in terms of sub-plots. With the exception of the excellent production values, the whole thing has a "made-for-DVD" feel.
The university setting also makes the movie extremely US-centric; we doubt many Aussies will relate to trying to get into an exclusive fraternity or stealing a sports mascot from a rival school, for example. By contrast, the original movie's themes and setting felt universal.
That said, there is still a lot to love about this movie. The characters of Mike and Sully are as lovable and neurotic as ever and while tiresomely predictable, their initial rivalry does produce a few laughs. While it's not one of Pixar's best, we think it's still worth shelling out for at the cinema -- especially when compared to dreck like Ice Age: Continental Drift and The Croods.
In conclusion, Pixar has indeed still got it; but can we have something new to play with next time please?
A final word of warning: if you're taking young kids, you might want to avoid 3D sessions -- my three-year old daughter began to find the glasses uncomfortable around an hour into the movie. (The 3D doesn't really add much to the experience anyway.)