When I think of Pixar, I think of some of the finest storytelling to ever grace a movie screen. I think of the studio not as an animation studio, but as a movie studio that happens to practice animation. The distinction for me is that the focus is more about the writing first, and as it turns out, these fantastic yarns are best illustrated by the abundant talents of the finest visual artists in the field wielding the best of the best of the best technology.
Pixar has always pushed the envelope in one way or another. They have always dared to captivate adult audiences as well as children, arguably sometimes favoring the former. They have pushed the boundaries of how much story a film can contain, how many subplots can be shuffled in between, and how fleshed out and human a character can be, even winning you over by the end after being so unlikeable.
The films of Pixar carry with them a high level of expectations to even the most aloof moviegoer and even ardent fans such as myself are quick to criticize when we feel that threshold has not been met. Even with such a fearless, focused and dedicated staff of artists an element can sometimes go missing. Cars 2 was a tremendous experiment in pushing the genre, making it more “spy movie” than “kids movie”, but it did not reach it’s potential to capture the many different settings in a way that would bring as much intrigue to the look of the film as there was in it’s plot. Brave was the studio’s first foray into folklore, a decidedly more predictable and therefore less interesting form of storytelling without making some key break-throughs and turning points near the end of the script. Wall-e For all of it’s visual glory and attempt at heart could not really seduce an audience into empathy and really just became an unintentional environmental tale.
If these films had more heart and dimension in their characters, more exciting and daring turns and more ambiance they would easily be among my favorites. Monsters University is one that has the complete package. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and while it’s stars already had one hit Pixar film, Monsters University stands alone as a great feature.
The movie is about Mike and Sully’s college days, before they became friends. First off, I want to address how perfectly college life was depicted while remaining kid friendly. You won’t see John Belushi chugging a bottle of Jack, but the parties and the cliques, the classroom lectures… well, it’s fun when you don’t have to do it. The campus is amazing and the rendering really shows off some terrific lighting effects, giving it a very romantic visual appeal. Don’t think it’s just about frat houses and old buildings, though. Monsters University is an adventure that takes you to the unexpected. Dean Hardscrabble is appropriately terrifying, and– true to Pixar tradition– defies the standard good guy bad guy dichotomy, appealing to the notion that however distasteful a character is, there is always potential to go the other way (and vice versa), just like real life people (go figure).
The heart of the story is Mike. As a wide eyed kid on a field trip, he becomes enamored with the idea of becoming a scarer and devotes his life to that end, working exceptionally hard and finally enrolling in the school of scaring at MU. Here is where Mike meets all kinds of challenges due to his disadvantage of not being Scary. At one point he tells Sully he’s worked harder than anyone to get there to which Sully replies “That’s because you don’t belong here.” Sully, a natural Beast, rides on his fathers name and fails to learn anything. Of course these two have to work together and when they do, it’s tremendous. Aside from that the supporting cast of characters are some of the finest and most enjoyable to watch.
Lots of hard work and long computer hours were put into the creation of this monster of a movie, think about all the fur and textures and the massive number of on screen characters at one time. Think about the hues in the sky and the streetlights, the reflections and the shadows, all working together to create the perfect mood for each scene. Monsters University didn’t make me cry, but it has it’s touching moments. It is unique, original, entertaining, provocative, cutting edge, state of the art… In short: It’s a Pixar film.