Comfortable and Furious

Monsters University

Monsters University 110 minutes G

There may still be good Pixar films, but the law of gravity (or bureaucratic stagnation) has come into effect. John Goodman (the fuzzy Sully) and Billy Crystal (the cyclopean Mike) put in a professional effort, but this is a pacifier film, a babysitter film. This does enough to keep the spawnlings complacent, but this it’s more a matter of marketing new mascots to dance around the theme park than it is about making a film worth seeing twice. This picture is more about injecting new plastic into a line of toys that have grown stale, rather than a new chapter in the tale.

Children’s films are as cushy a writing job as can be found in Hollywood. Follow a formula, season with a few non-risqué jokes and pop cultural references for the comic characters. Children don’t yet know what a cliché is, so you get to teach them, and save on having to do more novel or original.

So we’re shown the college days of the brainy Mike and Sully, the Bluto-esque party monster. They attend a campus peopled by stock characters. There’s the cruel and petty Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), the arrogant upper fraternity of Roar Omega Roar, featuring the treacherous chameleon Randy (Steve Buscemi). We have standard college comedy plot points of getting kicked out of an elite major, joining the least distinguished fraternity ( stocked with a standardized set of losers), and then an arbitrary assortment of competitions, with the end  goal of getting re-admitted to the prestigious scaring program. The best part of this movie for grown-ups is that you can sleep through it, after you’ve handcuffed your child to his seat.

This film gives us less of the world of Monsters Inc. than the 2001 original. The first movie was electrified by the wonder and anarchy of Boo, the errant child that gets loose in Monster world. This film has no equivalent audience proxy. Even the stakes for the protagonists aren’t much greater than flunking out of college.

The only interesting dialogue  are the student’s conversations about the art and theory of good scare-making. At least Monstropolis is honest about being a fear-based economy, unlike my country. If you’re going to make a movie about monsters living on a monster planet, get weird with it. These monsters are more banal than the people in my daily life, and I live in a small farm town near Fresno.

As for the Yokai (monster) design, it’s careless, a sundry assortment of the squamous and the polybrachial in all the colors of a tasteless rainbow. Whether in fantasy or horror or science fiction, it’s important to set a measure of taxonomy in your creature design. Elves and orcs, reptilians and wookies- it’s important to have a certain level of organization to the fantastic creatures, so the audience has a sense of an interlocking world. Here it’s anything goes and so it just collapses into a wash without meaning.

Brief digression: the sheer inconsistency of body dysmorphia precludes the possibility of any standardization or development of mass production. Yet the economy of Monstropolis is wholly devoted and directed by the monopolized energy industry. That’s what happens when you put me into a film like this- I start analyzing the economic underpinnings of a land of muppets.

Cast: Goodman and Crystal’s performances are the best things about this film. Good comic timing and a well emoted progression from rivalry to co-operation. They were the only ones bothering to make an effort.

Others: Dan Scanlon, the director, has made a paint by numbers children’s book. Jason Davies and Jason Deamer, the character designers, seem to be relying heavily on the YoGabbaGabba! aesthetic. Other than Hardscrabble, who is draconic and intimidating, there’s not much to say about the supporting cast. Randy Newmen is a feckless hack who’s utterly insufferable in every incarnation. But at least he doesn’t sing on any of the songs in this soundtrack.
“Blue Umbrella”, the teaser short animation: this short a technical knockout, showing how the lines between rotoscope, claymation, reality, and CGI are on the verge of being academic trivia. It’s a laughably stupid story that the makers of Nickelodeon’s ‘Pinwheel’ would have only featured as filler. This short piece tells you all about the direction that Pixar is headed- lots of processing speed, not a lot of innovation. The studio has been fully assimilated.

If it wasn’t for the budget and the talent this could have been a direct to DVD sequel. It would rank well by the standards of direct to DVD releases. It ranks poorly against the canon of earlier Pixar films.

Fair Value Rating System: $2.50. There are worse kid films to park your children in front of, but there’s also so much better (Make Mine Miyazaki!). There is one niche that this film is good for: if your kids are huge Monsters, Inc. fans, and you warn them that there is an average sequel, then, well… they will probably find it acceptable.

Someone fetch the insulin before our next repast….

G. W. Devon Pack



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