Monsters University is a wondrous animated comedy, brightly-colored, great to look at, not burdened by cheap product placement, and equipped with a brain in its head. It doesn’t stand as tall with the pioneers of Pixar, but why must we hold every Pixar film as a product that should be considerably better than its predecessor, regardless of their relations, or lack thereof, plots, or personal qualities. In terms of animation, this is more than serviceable and worthy of a trip to the theater. In terms of Pixar, it blends right in with their line of quality animated films the company has been churning out since 1995.

I mentioned in my recent review of Monsters, Inc. that it’s a stunning piece of trivia that the film is eleven years old, when the animation would pass in today’s market – a rare thing to say with technological standards constantly improving. Monsters University, however, features some of the smoothest, brightest, and most detailed animation – dare I say it – in any Pixar film to date. The uses of character-light and shadow are employed flawlessly, with true ingenuity and craft, the texturing of land, buildings, and environments are incomparable to any other animated feature out on the market, and the depth and detail to every individual scene warrants multiple rewatches for the sole purpose of extracting the intoxicating beauty of it all. This is truly animated filmmaking at its most elaborate in terms of art direction and aesthetic.

The storyline concerns the lovable pair of Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) and their adventures preceding their time at Monsters, Inc., which was at a prestigious university known as “Monsters University.” The university has a reputation for housing an elite, uncompromising scare program, which Mike has hungered to join and pass since his field trip to it when he was younger. When he gets there, he works night and day to assure he is the strongest “scarer” at the facility, but his hopes are dwindled to thread-sized proportions when he comes to the realization from his classmates and his dean that he just isn’t that scary for a stout, green, one-eyed tyke.

Nevertheless, he perseveres, proving his worthiness by forming a sorority of weak, under appreciated monsters – one of them, the unmotivated and lazy Sully – to join “The Scare Games,” which pits other sororities together to be crowned the scare champion. The team works hard to achieve their goals, despite terrible reception from the administration and their fellow competitors.

This movie shows perseverance and the reality of life better than animated films of recent time. The character Mike has the ability to empower kids to do something incredible, even the ones with low self-esteem. He is the perfect animated role model for a young child, say four or five, and his character and charm is incredible here. Moreover, I was shocked at the film’s blunt reality, which is that someone can try over and over again at something and not succeed in the slightest. Mike is completely browbeaten by everyone he encounters so, naturally, he tries to prove that he can do it and faces his detractors head-on by trying his hardest and studying his heart out. However, that can’t change his physical appearance, which is about as scary as the shadow of a feather, and, in the end, only changes his mental-state, which is healthy but easily-corrupted. The film shows a tough, tough lesson that is even tougher to illustrate, which is you can try extremely hard at something but not even come as close as you want to succeeding. That’s an enormously tough lesson to teach anyone – even adults and well-experienced men and women will have a difficult time coping with their inevitable, uncontrollable inabilities – and Monsters University takes a direct approach to a commonly ignored issue that has long-been under the radar.

It’s also wonderful to see the beauty and detail of the monsters in the film’s world exercised in a more explicit state. Sure, we certainly got a welcomed taste in the original film, but segregating this film to a campus setting gives it ample more opportunity to show the uniqueness of each individual monster. Pixar has never sacrificed detail over substance (hell, they created a website for the fictional university in the film that houses more detail and substance than other university websites) and the beauty of their work shows here. The world is heartwarming and complete to say the least.

I feel with the newer Pixar films, Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters University to be specific, you must look below the surface and into the film’s themes and focuses if you want to even near the appreciation and admiration you had for the Toy Story franchise. Cars 2 dealt with trying to do the right thing in the face of chaos and conflict, which is hard for anyone to do. Brave showed a daughter trying to live outside of her mother’s image, hoping it would result in a mutual compromise between the two. And finally, Monsters University shows kids the difficult but necessary feature life has of not always rewarding a trying, passionate soul. These three films may not achieve the emotional reaction and resonance the previous films have appeared to achieve effortlessly, but they’re still nonetheless almost subversive in their own right.

Grade: B

Want more Monsters U? Read our other review here.

Reviewed by Steve Pulaski

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