Has Pixar Still Got It?

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.)


    So the question is: does Pixar still have what it takes to put your bum in a seat?That's why they invented "Netflix" et al, I loved the original, watched it again this week and looking forward to the new one... :)

    Last edited 18/06/13 11:13 am

    I think you have to look at who owns Pixar now. That particular corporation has a known and stated preference for "franchises" rather than "a film" when it comes to kids movies, nowadays.

    I suspect the pressure is on Pixar, given the lukewarm response to Brave, and the blatant and obvious attempt to boost mercahndise sales called Cars 2. Both those films were on the unhappy side of average and median box office returns for the company. When you consider someone who was under 5 when Toy Story came out is now old enough to have a 3- or 4-year-old themselves, nostalgic sequels start to look pretty good to the bean counters and marketing people.

    Last edited 18/06/13 12:19 pm

    I for one would be ok with more of The Incredibles

    Great franchise.the advancements they made to animation can now be used by all ( see apple) it's up to the writers now!.i have idea about a magic dragon..........et al.we need writers who in one way or another can write modern age fairy tales . " I was a piece of sand,who became a brick,who became part of a building............" run with it

    Nothing at all wrong with the Toy Story sequels. The Toy Story trilogy stands up as one of the greatest movie series ever made.

      I agree completely. Whether we need sequels to Cars, Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc is another matter, however.

        Not to mention the spin-off-in-the-same-universe idea of "Planes"

    Points for using 'retread' :D spot on.

    Toy Story is king though.

    A large part of the premise of this article seems to be around "is the film (and those like it) justified on cost" (fifty bucks to take your family to the flicks these days). Perhaps you could bag your cinema then, 'cos mine would charge you $22 for two adults and two kids (Brisbane - 5k's from CBD). And I can't imagine spending an additional thirty bucks on food and drink. You don't HAVE to pay through the nose - you have a choice!

      $22 for four tickets?? Either the manager is deranged or the cinema is a time-portal into 1980. There's probably a Dr. Who episode in this...

        Not that uncommon, there's two like that within 10km of my house. They don't have super digital 17 channel surround 48fps digital 4k 3d, but a good movie is a good movie. http://www.plazacinemascroydon.com.au/tickets-and-pricing

          That cinema charges around $40 for a family of four -- almost double what NKT said.

            Family ticket for $32 although I'll grant that's not $22, it's not the $66 my local Hoyts charges either

      Agreed! It's definitely worth shopping around and trying out the smaller, independent cinemas. I frequent the Odeon Star (Semaphore, SA); $8 movie tickets for everyone. Bit of a drive from my place, but when you're saving $9 per movie ticket compared to the nearest cinema chain, it's worth it! http://odeonstar.com.au/

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