Monsters University

Monsters University is a film that is absolutely worth seeing in theaters. I do not say this because of Monsters University, but because of the short film that Pixar has attached to it. That film is called The Blue Umbrella, and it is one of the most gorgeous things you will see at the cinema. Unfortunately for Monsters University, which already has incredibly high expectations placed upon it, this works against the feature.

Having the brilliant short film precede the feature means that after we see that, it’s almost impossible to top it. The Blue Umbrella tells the story of the aforementioned blue umbrella, who is more cheerful and animated than those around him. He spots a red umbrella, and attempts to make contact with it. The rest of the short involves the other usually inanimate objects of the environment — street signs, sidewalks, traffic lights, etc. — attempting to unite these two umbrellas. It’s a gorgeous film, with animation and lighting so impressive that there are times when you’re not sure whether it’s live-action or CGI. Judging solely based on The Blue Umbrella, we are not far away from photorealistic animation.

Monsters University, on the other hand, looks nowhere near as good, and doesn’t tell a story anywhere near as sweet. Instead, it follows Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), as he attends the school of the title in hopes of becoming the “Scarer” that we see of him in Monsters Inc. We also need to see how Mike and Sully (John Goodman) become friends, as they start out this film not knowing each other before soon becoming rivals, not partners.

Yes, Monsters University is a prequel to Monsters Inc., and it has to set up everything so that the 2001 film can exist. Primarily, it does this at the very end, as it tells its own story and has a whole lot of characters which are not mentioned in Monsters Inc. It is focused on showing us a competition called the “Scare Games,” which has different fraternities teaming up in an attempt to beat the others in a series of competitions. The winning team is declared the scariest in the entire school, and in this universe, that is a positive.

How many children are completely aware of what a fraternity is? The older members of the audience might know, but they’ll also know how silly the film’s version of the college experience is. It’s like the film is too mature for the young children, but not mature enough for the older crowd. That begs the question: Who exactly is Monsters University for? And the only answer I can come up with is that it’s for the studio to make a ton of money and be able to finance a project it would much rather do.

It’s not even that Monsters University is bad. Even if its subject matter and the way it treats that is a bit odd, it’s still a fast, flashy and funny experience that is sure to entertain most people. It’s not at all original, and it doesn’t do anything that you haven’t seen before, but as a colorful movie for kids, it’s not a failure. It will keep eyes on the screen and give the parents a 90-minute break from having to look after their children. But it’s not in the same class as Monsters Inc., or any of the really good Pixar films.

The animation looks terrible in comparison to The Blue Umbrella. That’s part of the problem of having the short ahead of the feature, and not the other way around. You see one of the most beautifully animated films ever, and then you have to watch something that doesn’t even approach that level. For those who care about animation quality, this will likely bug you for the next 90 minutes. There’s only one sequence in Monsters University that comes anywhere close to The Blue Umbrella, and it comes very late in the picture.

There’s nothing that Monsters University does that you need to see. It doesn’t do a single thing exceptionally well, and it’s so lightweight that you’ll forget about it soon after it ends. It’s a typical film where a group of misfits attempts to beat out the team of jerks who seem like they have no chance of losing. We saw this a few weeks earlier in 2013 with The Internship, and here the same story pops up again, except this time it’s in the Monsters Inc. universe, and takes place in a college campus instead of Google.

It is kind of fun learning how some of the situations that happening in Monsters Inc. happened — in particular, why Randy (Steve Buscemi) hates Mike and Sully — and seeing a few cameos you won’t expect is always enjoyable. It’s these points in the film where you’ll likely have the most fun. The competitions are all fun and good, but the jokes and surprises are what should bring in the most laughter.

If you really liked the two leads — and not Boo, because she doesn’t make an appearance here — from Monsters Inc. there’s a good chance you’ll like Monsters University. It’s not as good, but it’s entertaining and moves at a good clip, so it won’t bore you. Its function as a prequel really only happens at the end, and while it’s fun to see how it sets up Monsters Inc., that’s really its secondary purpose. It’ll make you laugh and might excite you a few times, but it’s forgettable and relatively bland. It’s worth going to see it just for The Blue Umbrella, the short film that plays before it.

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