Published Nov 06, 2013Included with the Blu-ray release of Pixar's latest unnecessary sequel, Monsters University, is a supplemental disc with an abundance of special features detailing just what it's like to work at Pixar. Beyond the multiple montages of people sitting at computers or in meetings and an elaborate "Scare Games" competition, wherein they compete by department in dodge ball and obstacle courses, the corporate structure of how Pixar films are constructed is outlined.
Essentially, every script tweak, thematic decision, character motivation and animated shot is filtered through layers and layers of people that all offer their opinion on the subject. The many test screenings and content meetings over every individual decision, while helpful in weeding out crappy ideas, explains the eventual outcome of the film and product presentation; it explains why Monsters University, and many Pixar films of late, have been astoundingly banal and conservative.
Thematically, this exceedingly colourful foray into populist entertainment tackles the importance of teamwork and the difficulty of confronting our own limitations. Mike (Billy Crystal), upon fulfilling his dream of attending Monsters University long before he and Sully (John Goodman) ever started working at Monsters Inc., wants desperately to be an expert scarer. He's tenacious and focused in this pursuit, memorizing every theory and concept, having the act of scaring down to a science, but his fatal flaw is that he simply isn't an inherently scary creature.
Contrarily, Sully is naturally fearsome and comes from a long line of successful monsters. Unfortunately, this reliance on sheer ability has made him inherently lazy and indifferent towards personal betterment.
This duality and the eventual pairing of these ideologically opposed characters is about as generic as storytelling gets. As soon as this formula is set up, having a transparent eventuality even without audience consciousness of what eventually happens to these characters after they leave University, the film devolves into a protracted series of montages and competitions.
Mike and Sully, after having a heated argument during a class, are booted from the scare program and have only the "Scare Games" to help get them back into the program. Much like most post-secondary films set in America, winning a competition to save or protect some sort of tradition (or conversely break free from it) becomes the trajectory after the pair join a loser fraternity and have to motivate their awkward gang of rejects (think Sorority Girls, only without the casual nudity and transsexuals) to step out of their shells and defeat the more confident, popular frats.
In all fairness, these games are structured with a kinetic and engaging sensibility. Whether the gang is trying to sneak through a library silently or run through an obstacle course filled with allergens that will swell their limbs if touched, the sheer visceral component works quite well during this portion; it's just a shame that every gag and machination feels so familiar, having mostly been reiterated from earlier, more dynamic Pixar films.
Where superior animated fare like Up and Wall-E took risks with the format, introducing heavy thematic material and extended sequences without dialogue, Monsters University rests on market research and the inherently humourless tedium of popular opinion. Quite simply, too many people were involved in the decision-making process, dumbing down every possible concept to the broadest of possible status quos.
Hopefully, Pixar will learn from their mistakes of late and kick some of the cooks — particularly the politically correct ones afraid of offending anyone's tender sensibilities — out of the kitchen, allowing a story to stem from passion rather than a collective sense of moral vanity. (Pixar/Buena Vista)