Monday, December 16, 2013

DVD of the Week: Monsters University

I can remember a time, not so long ago, when Computer Animation was bemoaned in many places as responsible for the "death" of the animators art, and the rise of the digital age would lead to a glut of senseless, soul-less kids animation. Because y'know, we never got those previously, right? And then can remember another age, when Pixar bestrode the world, and could do no wrong, unless, Icarus-like, they crashed to the earth with a run of merely decent movies with safer premises than say, a Robot Trash Compactor in Love, or an Old Man flying his house to South America to die. Which brings us rather neatly to Monsters University, a prequel to early Pixar triumph, Monsters Inc.

Outside of "reimagining", the word "prequel" is starting to become of those words that sets off alarm bells with me these days. The Origin Story is such a lazy template for Hollywood Franchise Starters that they're getting pretty dull, no matter how many explosions you add, and finding films that didn't feel the need to have one, and then bolting one on the front, is just frustrating. And here we have Pixar doing one, showing how the dream team of Mike and Sully met and got together, in the framework of that perennial sub-genre, the College hi-jinks movie.

So here is the problem - whilst I doubt many of Monsters University's core audience will have seen any of the frat-house comedies that the film references, the beats of them have been used so many times over the years that for adults this is all far too familiar. You have the underdog fraternity, the Jocks vs Nerds central conflict, a stern Head of the College, hazing, pledges, competitions for glory. Mike and Sully start out foes, then are forced together through adversity and come to be friends. the Outcasts come to triumph because of their individuality, not despite it. These are all great, relevant messages for kids but boy, have we seen it all before. Hell, I've seen it done better this year, in Pitch Perfect.

This is Pixar, so it is very charming, and very light on it's (cliched) feet. Nathan Fillion gives great "Jock", and Helen Mirren gives great "Scary", and the rest of the misfit cast verbally mug through their roles to the usual high quality you would expect. Its funny, and clever, but again, utterly without surprise and I know it's a kids film, but we've all come to expect more. That said, the supporting feature, The Blue Umbrella, is utterly fantastic, and may even be worth the rental alone.