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Monsters University - Review
Monsters University sees Pixar attempt the first prequel to one of their most well received movies. It's a surprising choice actually, upon the initial reveal of the trailer there were numerous comments from fans demanding to know where the hell Boo was, and Monster Inc.'s ending always seemed to hint that if there was going to be another film set in the same world, it would involve Boo in some way.
Instead, Monster University sends us all the way back to Mike Wazowski's first day of university life. As a concept, it gives the filmmakers a lot of freedom, and Pixar do a good job with mixing university stereotypes and the bizarre monster world. The reveal that Mike's roommate is none other than Randall, is rather surprising too. Rather than being the slimy, backstabbing so and so he was in the original film, here he's still a bespectacled, unconfident nerd. Meanwhile, it's Sully whose the initial "bad guy" as the spoilt, arrogant son of a successful family of renowned scarers.
However, as the film progresses, Randall is extremely underused. Whilst Sully's movement from cocky rich kid to Mike's best friend is set up well across the course of the film, Randall goes from being the odd one out, to one of the bad guys, in the space of a single scene. Initially, there appeared to be the implication that Mike was going to be partially responsible for how Randall turned out, but the subplot is dropped and never picked up again. As a result, his character ends up coming across as another way to link the two films together, rather than being there for a particular purpose.
Director Dan Scanlon takes his time with the material, and the first half an hour of the movie is about simply establishing the characters, with any notion of an overarching plot taking a backseat. Mike's gone to university to be a scarer, but despite knowing all there is about a scaring, (there's a brilliant sequence as the students have to go through the types of scares: growl, zombie, lion etc.), as a diminutive green eyeball, he's just not all that frightening.
We also get to see all of the other types of monsters that have turned up at university. This is Monsters University at its best, since it allows the Pixar team to just come up with the all of the weird and wonderful creatures that they'd like. There's the various fraternities and sororities, and the stern Dean Hardscrabble, a dragon-insect hybrid, played wonderfully by Helen Mirren.
It's once Monsters University settles into the actual story that it become a little predictable. In order to get back into the scaring program, Mike and Sully are left to work alongside Oozma Kappa, a fraternity made up of bunch of misfits. While the interaction between the various characters is great, the actual plot that's ticking along just never seems all that interesting. It's rather predictable when compared to the likes of Up and Toy Story. The team has to make it through a series of various challenges, as one sorority or fraternity is eliminated each round. As with Brave last year, there's a persistent impression that you're watching a film that's been done before, just with Pixar's computer animation.
Still, the characters and the humour are what make a film like this fun to watch, and Monsters University is always entertaining. Despite being almost two hours long the film rarely drags, and manages to find ways to keep both the adult and child audiences happy, typically by having them laugh at the same scenes, but for entirely different reasons, a skill that Pixar's writers have always had.
With Finding Dory announced for release in a few years time it seems that more sequels/prequels are still on the way. It's somewhat disappointing that Pixar has been doing an increasing amount of these in recent years. Along with last year's Brave, the last time they released a film that wasn't based on a pre-existing movie was 2009's Up. This wouldn't typically be an issue, mainstream cinema is a big commercial business, and therefore film's based on pre-existing material are commonplace, such as older films, TV series, comic books, novels, and even video games. However, Pixar have always been well known for their unique story-telling, and whilst Monster's University is enjoyable, it would have been better to see something fresh and original from the studio.
Monsters University was released in UK theatres on July 12th.
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