My review for this movie is going to be slightly different than the one I would’ve written after I first saw Monsters, Inc. Monsters University simply blows Monsters, Inc. out of the water when it comes to animation. I think this is because monsters are simply more difficult to render (than toys or bugs) on computers realistically (kind of a paradox, I know), but since monsters played such an integral part in the story, I’m glad Pixar pursued Monsters, Inc. The strength of Monsters, Inc. is not in the visuals, as is usually the case with Pixar, but in its story and storytelling.
The Unique Premise
With most Hollywood companies, it probably would have been enough to propose a story on the basis of monsters who need to scare children in order to produce energy for Monstropolis. I say this because of movies like Avatar, Titanic, and Transformers which are grossly unoriginal, but still manages to get green-lit. No, Pixar goes further. Not only should monsters have an incentive to scare children, but tiny, innocent children should scare the heck out of these monsters, and much of the humor of this movie derives from this smart decision.
After watching Monsters, Inc. as an adult, I can say almost confidently that this film had to be largely motivated by one particular scene: the chase scene with all the doors in the door factory. If you haven’t seen the film, you have to watch Monsters, Inc. for this sequence. It is by far the best scene in the movie, one that justifies the entire existence of the movie by itself. Not only is it a spectacle and a stunning display of Pixar’s commitment to innovative animation, but it is hilarious, frightening, thrilling, and immensely creative all at the same time. If only the rest of the movie was rooted in such obvious excitement from the studio.
The story is creative (overly complicated, sometimes), as is the unique premise. But the adventure is somehow flat. I couldn’t really figure out why until further thought and consideration.
The camera is static. It’s strange that something so seemingly minor would influence an entirely well-written script so much, but there’s a reason why cinema derives its name from cinematography. Although there is a modest amount of action, most of the shots are viewed from a bystander’s point of view who has his video recorder zoomed out far enough to catch the entire sequence without moving. That’s boring cinematography. So when the camera is strapped unto a bizarre door roller coaster or on Sully’s sled as he slides down to the village, it is so relieving.
Also, there is one character who I really couldn’t get invested with, and that is Mike, Sully’s best friend. I think he made for some good laughs, but for as much screen time as he gets, I didn’t think he deserved to be downgraded to a comic relief role. There’s a scene when both Sully and Mike are exiled into some winter wasteland and engage in a fierce argument. I think I was supposed to feel sad, but it wasn’t really a moving moment. I never thought Mike was a good friend to Sully. I like how Mike learns to be more selfless after this argument, but it still doesn’t resolve a big plot contrivance: why does Sully even live together with Mike? Monsters University actually makes this friendship dynamic a lot more plausible, so I’ll give Pixar a break on this one; it seems they acknowledged this problem too.
The Pixar Moment
The story, without getting tripped up in all the details, essentially follows Sully’s realization that scaring children is bad because children feels fear as monsters do. They cry, they have nightmares, and they feel. Monsters, Inc. is a cunningly innocent tale against xenophobia. Unlike something like Pocahontas which was so blatantly in your face about unreasoned prejudices, Monsters, Inc. focuses on Sully’s relationship with a single child who changes his mindset on his entire career, namely Boo.
It is precisely this sort of effectively humble storytelling Pixar so wonderfully realizes which makes their films such a joy to watch. Sometimes, it is the most seemingly insignificant of experiences which matters the most. And sometimes, the most traumatic experiences which changes us for the better. In this case, it is the seemingly insignificant and traumatic journey of Sully returning a child back home. Sully isn’t saving the world from villainy destruction or trying to save himself from alien invasion. Sully is sacrificing his livelihood for the sake of a single individual and learning from it. And yet, this story is more than important enough when told as beautifully as how Pixar is able to tell it. The Pixar moment occurs when Sully returns Boo home and has to say good-bye. It’s not sad because it is a father-figure saying good-bye to his sort of adopted daughter (inherently sad as it is). It is sad because it is Sully saying good-bye to Boo, well-developed characters who we full-heartedly care about.
I’ve omitted a formal climax section to this review because I thought it was better placed this time in the “The Unique Premise” section above. Once again, if you haven’t seen it, what are you doing reading this review? Go and watch Monsters, Inc. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll scare, it’ll amaze, it’ll shock, but most importantly, Monsters, Inc. will make you feel.
Final Grade: 88% (B+)–Pixar-worthy delivery of its original story, but couldn’t ignore the lack of artistry.