WARNING: If you watch this movie, this could be you inside the theater.

Theatrical Release Date: 06/21/2013
Director: Dan Scanlon
Featuring the Voices of: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Charlie Day, Alfred Molina, Tyler Labine, Nathan Fillion, Aubrey Plaza, Steve Buscemi
Rated: G.
Runtime: 1 hour, 50 minutes


Don’t get excited. This is Monsters University.

Contrary to the norm, I’m going to start on the positive side of things. The short film attached to Monsters University is called The Blue Umbrella. It’s about … well … a blue umbrella. He sees an apparently female red umbrella he fancies (apparently gender is color derived in umbrellas). On a crowded, rain-soaked street, our eager blue umbrella strives to catch up to the beguiling red one. Adorableness ensues. The story itself is sweet though rather slight, but what’s really impressive is the photorealism captured in the animation.

Okay, moving onto less positive things, let’s get to the feature. Expectations for Pixar films used to be high. They had a ridiculous streak of exceptional animated films, some of which transcended the kiddie genre and ended up on many critics’ Top 10 lists, despite their intended demographic.

Then came Cars 2, which might as well have been subtitled The Search for More Money though I think if they went went that, Mel Brooks could have a good argument to sue. And then there was Brave, which presented a more positive female role model for little girls and it was beautifully animated but was missing an extra layer of depth to really stand amongst the rest of Pixar’s canon.

Now, with Monsters University, the folks in Emeryville, California have solidified a new streak for the company: Three misses in a row. Simply put, had this come out first, there’s no reason anyone could have expected the chronologically second film, Monsters, Inc. to be anywhere near as good as it is.

Just how bad is Monsters University? Well, keep in mind it’s a prequel and tells the story of how Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. ‘Sulley’ Sullivan (John Goodman) met in college. As such, I can rightfully equate the terribleness to what George Lucas did to the Star Wars franchise with his prequels.

Yes. It’s THAT bad.

The plot centers on our two protagonists leading a group of social outcasts to compete in a series of challenges with other Greek societies on campus. If that sounds familiar, that’s because this is essentially Revenge of the Nerds but director Dan Scanlon and his co-writers Daniel Gerson and Robert L. Baird have failed to even follow that road map – veering off the track with a tacked on second ending that takes about twenty minutes and exhausted what little patience I had left. The voice work is also disappointing as a story this uninteresting is a waste of time for so many talented actors and that’s all I have to say about that (all of a sudden, I want a box of chocolates but I digress).

Along the way, Monsters University manages to elicit a laugh or two (and I’m not kidding when I say the funniest bit has nothing to do with the main characters but is instead about a snail rushing to get to class). What’s worse, however, than boring the ever-loving brains out of the adults in the audience … and worse still than disappointing those of us who truly loved Monsters, Inc. and don’t enjoy seeing its reputations “sulleyed” (sorry one cheap shot of a movie deserves a cheap shot of a joke) … is that if you though this would keep your kid silent and still in their seat, you are DEAD WRONG.

At the screening I attended, children were talking throughout (and not about the movie) and/or they were roaming the theater in complete disregard for the film itself. If it weren’t for the fact that I find the merchandising cash-grab that is the Cars franchise more disingenuous, I’d have ranked this below that sequel (though they share the same rating) but I haven’t seen so many children up and wandering around in an animated movie, well … EVER. A fellow critic found time to catch some zzz’s, which I was rather jealous of, but I managed to kept my peepers open and soaked in all the mediocrity and just kept myself busy shifting in my seat until it was all over.

Oh, and P.S. The 3D is as flat as the storytelling, so avoid that if you’re still being forced into the theater on this one. Pixar has yet to make one that worked in the third dimension and this is no exception.

Really, if anyone needs to go to school, it’s Pixar themselves. They should sit their employees down in a dark room and show them the movies that came before Cars 2. Then they should ban sequels to all but perhaps The Incredibles franchise (the only story that naturally lends itself to the idea of sequels). Perhaps a course about the meaning of the phrase “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” would be a good idea, as the free reign with which the studio was granted due to its string of quality films needs to be drawn in.

As much as some of the key founders of the company should be allowed to continue working on projects outside the Pixar framework, it’d be nice if some of them were brought back to mentor the newer set of filmmakers in the company (except John Lasseter who has had his name on these last few mistakes as executive producer and would likely only bring about a third Cars movie).

Looking ahead (because I’m pretty much done looking at Monsters University), thankfully the next two Pixar films will be originals and have more experienced hands at the wheel. 2014 will see The Good Dinosaur come to screens, directed by Bob Peterson who co-directed Up and co-wrote both Up and Finding Nemo. Then in 2015, audiences will take a trip into the human mind with Inside Out, from director Pete Docter (co-director of Up and Monsters, Inc.; co-writer on Up, WALL·E & the first two Toy Story films). 2016 sees another sequel, this time to Finding Nemo and entitled Finding Dory, but it will be directed by Andrew Stanton who did the first one so I’ll reserve cynicism until after seeing it.

I’m hoping the bad times are behind us (though the talk of a possible fourth Toy Story feature has me worried as the trilogy seemed nicely resolved). And sadly, I’m sure Monsters University will make plenty of money, as parents are given little options when it comes to child-friendly films. However, maybe I can offer some advice I picked up from the movie WarGames: “The only winning move is not to play.” Or more constructively, how about you just sit your kid down in the living room and put the trailer for this stink bomb on repeat. It’s cheaper and maybe your kid won’t notice.

1.5 out of 53D No