Saturday, 27 July 2013

Monsters University (2013)

A new Pixar film in the cinema is always an event. It's the thought of an addition to the enviable filmography the animation studio basks in that makes it so special. Can they pull it off again? What can they possibly do in this which will better the one before? They've already made some of the greatest Hollywood films of the 21st century and some of the best animated films of all time. It can't, and won't, go on like this forever.

Some might argue that the quality has been declining ever since they reached a peak with Toy Story 3 in 2010. Brave was relatively and uncharacteristically generic, not making much of an impact, whereas Cars 2 was, by some margin, the least successful film Pixar has done. So, determined to shake off this notion of a downhill slope in Pixar's film quality, my sister and I headed out to Ocean Terminal for a small day out and a look at their latest, Monster's University. It's their first prequel, explaining how the main characters of 2001's classic Monsters, Inc. got on in their higher education and how they got into the business of scaring. It's been years since I saw Monsters, Inc. I can hardly remember the plot. I was concerned this might ruin the plot a little, there would be references I don't understand, characters I can't remember.

As it turns out, I could have stepped onto the planet for the first time four minutes before going into the cinema and everything would still make sense. In fact, if it wasn't for the improvement in animation graphics, Monsters University could well have been the first film of the two, with Monsters, Inc. released twelve years later. As a prequel, however, this does allow for a clever bit of character study. Sulley, as it turns out, used to be a bit of a dick, using his much-admired family name to hide the fact that he is not a very talented scarer. And before he reached the amiable personality that made him so loveable in the first film, Mike was quite self-absorbed and unwilling to hand over power to others. The story arc that lands them at their Monsters, Inc. characters is great fun to watch and brilliantly written.

Mike is an ambitious teenage monster who applies for the scaring course at Monsters University after being enthralled by the factory on a school trip when he was young. On the first day, he becomes rivals with Sulley, who appears to have got into university solely based on the fact he is descended from a line of distinguished scarers and is arrogant without having the skills to back it up. Whilst Mike is incredibly hard-working and knowledgeable about the history and techniques of scaring, he is, naturally, far too cute to make a small child scream. Sulley, on the other hand, knows only one scaring technique. It's very effective, but he needs a full set to make an impression at uni. When they are both kicked off the course for inadequacy, they must team together, along with the rest of their fraternity house, to show the university's best why they ought to stay.

In such a deceptively simple plot line, there are many spaces for unexpected twists. It's a great script, with the same Pixar humour that everyone can get as well as insights into the characters. The voice cast is superb, with the fantastic John Goodman and Steve Buscemi returning from the first film with Billy Crystal, and Helen Mirren and Nathan Fillion amongst those joining the new film as staff and students. This is a worthy addition to Pixar's bunch of wonderful movies, and comfortably their best since Toy Story 3. Expect to see OK t-shirts everywhere within the next year or so.

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