Monsters University is Pixar’s storytelling in base form: solidly formed characters, a wonderfully realized and beautifully animated world, and enough light-hearted humor to get through occasionally dark themes. It won’t go down as one of their strongest efforts, due to its simplistic narrative and predictable developments, but it reminds us of how charming and sincere their approach to characterizations are. Here, Mike (Billy Crystal) is chasing dreams that he will never realize; if this weren’t an animated film and we didn’t know the events of Monsters Inc. (a superior work, one of my favorite animated films), this would be a tragedy. Yet his friendship with Sully (John Goodman) and the way that is formed around a college campus works wonders on the film’s success.
The college life is hilariously relatable and at times too one-dimensional, but it remains effective. The laughs, as always, stem from characters that we grow emotionally attached to as the film progresses; Art (Charlie Day), the funniest of the bunch, is also one of the sweetest, and like most of Pixar’s films the movie has an unabashedly strong heart. This is a film that cares about what happens to its characters, developing them methodically (however straightforward that may be) and providing enough commentary on them to form more than one-note entries. And the ensemble here is massive and the animation gorgeous, providing for one of the most beautifully rendered animated films I’ve seen.
The 3D is well done but largely unnecessary, as always. This is such a colorful, vibrant picture that 3D only makes it look less detailed. And while this isn’t a great Pixar film, because it largely expands upon a universe that was so elaborately formed in 2001’s entry, it’s still a solidly built film that reminds us of how much Pixar can sweep us into a world. The movie’s climax and conclusion feel a bit muddled in terms of their pacing, making the film feel a bit longer than it actually is (only about 100 minutes), but it remains captivating. Being the strongest animated feature of the year so far isn’t saying a whole lot, but it’s certainly something for Pixar to be proud of. It’s a likable, pleasant film, a good-natured one at that; I can’t say that about many films I’ve seen this year.
Side note: the short before the film, as always with Pixar efforts, is a strong silent film centering on umbrellas. Their inventiveness never ceases to impress me.
Grade: ★★★½ (out of 5)