Every generation has its own college movie. The 1970s boasted the timeless college comedy, Animal House. In the 1980’s the social strata of college took another turn in the equally popular comedy, Revenge of the Nerds. The 1990s saw art imitate life when Jeremy Piven (Entourage, Mr. Selfridge) and David Spade (Rules of Engagement, Tommy Boy, Saturday Night Live) went toe to toe in PCU. The children of the 2000s even had their own college flicks in the Van Wilder franchise. Sadly, that franchise was largely forgettable. Now in the second decade of the 2000s, Disney/Pixar has released this generation’s college movie in the form of Monsters University. It should come as no surprise to audiences that little more than four months after it premiered in U.S. theaters, Monsters University is already scheduled to be released on DVD, Blu-ray and BD/DVD/Digital combo pack. It’s definitely not the worst movie of the year. But it isn’t the year’s best, either. Though in its defense, it does deserve at least a spot on the list of the year’s best movies. The reason for this mixed response is that on one hand, it should be obvious to older audiences how this family friendly college flick is little more than an update of the previously noted movies. This isn’t the movie’s only problem. Just as Disney/Pixar’s Cars 2 focused far too much on Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy), so did Monsters University have its share of problems with character development. In its defense though, what can be said good about Monsters University is that it does teach some valuable lessons, which are just part of the heart that this story boasts. That heart is just enough to make the movie worth at least one watch for those that have yet to see it.
The most obvious problem that rises with Monsters University is its general lack of originality. Monsters, Inc. was such a wonderful film because it was original. Not even the likes of the 1989 Fred Savage/Howie Mandel flick, Little Monsters could compare to Monsters, Inc. In understanding this, Monsters University sadly pales in comparison to its forerunner in this avenue. All it did was take elements of all of the previously mentioned college flicks and tone them down to make them into one family friendly movie. Yes, it’s good that otherwise grown-up movies finally have a family friendly outlet. But considering that Pixar has quite the history of being a front runner in the modern world of CG “animated” films thanks to its original movies, this mash-up of already made films knocks the studio (and Disney) down a notch.
The mash-up of so many already made films is only one of the problems from which Monsters University suffers. Not only does it lift liberally from other much more classic movies, it even goes so far as to lift from its own predecessor. That is obvious throughout the near two hour movie. There’s even a scene in which Mike and Sully end up in the real world and have a heart to heart talk before their effort to return to the monster world. This sort of writing behavior harkens right back to another Disney movie that goes by the name of Tron: Legacy. That movie basically took the original and retold it for a new generation. Monsters University has done much the same thing, just in reverse. Yet again, points are taken off for that. It doesn’t get much better from here.
Monsters University suffers quite a bit thanks to the fact that it lifts from so many other movies and tries to convince audiences that it’s something new. What makes it worse is that its team of half a dozen writers do something that another previous Disney/Pixar movie had already done. Just as Cars 2 ended up being more about Mater, Monsters University is more about Mike than his friendship with Sully. Yes, audiences see how the friendship between the two originally formed. But more time is spent focusing on Mike’s impact on the friendship than on the friendship as a whole. Sully (John Goodman) ends up taking a back seat to Billy Crystal this time out, unlike the equal billing shared between the duo in Monsters, Inc. Along with the story’s other problems, the collective issues noted here weigh down the story to the point that it makes it difficult to see beyond them. Luckily though, there are some positives to the overall presentations that save it.
The first of the positives that saves Monsters University is its collective life lessons. The story presented in this movie’s script includes lessons about acceptance, tolerance, and self-confidence. They are taught as Mike ends up taking on the lead role of his monster fraternity and has to help them be accepted back into the university through a series of challenges. Mike learns to have more self-confidence in himself through his experiences. He also realizes a valuable lesson about how the differences in the monsters at Monsters, Incorporated were what made it such a legendary company. Again, this goes back to that lesson of self-confidence. It also ties in to the lessons of acceptance and tolerance in the bigger picture as he and his OK brothers fight to win their competitions and earn their way back into the university. All of these lessons are important for viewers of any age. So for all of the problems that weigh down this movie, it is these lessons that keep it afloat and worth at least one watch. The movie will be available in stores and online on October 29th on DVD and DVD/Blu-ray/Digital combo pack. More information on the home release of Monsters University is available online at http://www.facebook.com/WaltDisneyStudios, http://movies.disney.com/watch-at-home, and http://www.disneystore.com.
To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.