Why I Didn’t Like Monsters University

Heeeeeeey Pixar. I saw Monsters University a few weeks ago. Opening night.

Not that many people in the theater that night. In fact, there were about six. Not like Toy Story 3, which had the Millennials lined up around the block.

What’s happenin’ there, big fella? Have you fallen down a bit from that mountain of creative genius from which you’ve been admired and revered for so many years?

I know, it was stressful. Hit after hit after hit. I’m not even being facetious. You were riding so high and flying so close to the sun that you knew it was going to all come crashing down soon. The wheel of fortune had to spin against your favor. Had to be nerve wracking.

I think that’s why you made Cars 2. You knew you were due for a flop, and the stress was killing you. So you purposefully made a movie you knew would be terrible just to put the pressure off. Kind of like Bob Dylan and his Self Portrait album. You made it, you didn’t promote it too much, and you thought, “There. We’ve proven we’re not celestial moviemakers from on high. And we still made money on the merchandise. Now we can go back to being geniuses.”

But you lost your footing on the climb back up your mountain. Just a bit. Brave was a mess. I’m not saying it wasn’t a good movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was just a mess. The story and the theming didn’t really mesh. And although I did enjoy the crazy bear-obsessed witch lady (who is secretly Boo from Monsters Inc), she was kinda weird and I have no idea what that whole thing was all about. It was pretty random and strange. In a great way. But in a messy way.

In fact, the best analogy for Brave is actually found in Monsters University. In Pixar’s recently released prequel, Mike Wazowski desperately wants to be a scarer. So he obsesses and works harder than any other monster in the joint. And it pays off. He improves drastically and comes up with some quality scare tactics. Just like with Brave. The animators really did their homework. They traveled to Scotland to study and replicate the breathtaking landscapes. They developed a brand new computer animation system that depicts stunning realism. They composed some killer scottish tunes that I listened to on-repeat for several months.

But, at its center, Brave had issues. The story just didn’t flow with the tone they had set. Just as Mike Wazowski, no matter how hard he studied and how hard he worked, was not at his core a scary monster. Ultimately, he and Brave didn’t have what it took to achieve their goals.

You know what? I’m fine with that. I’m thrilled with that. I love a movie company that puts its all into whatever movie they’re making and reaches for the top of that proverbial mountain (last one for that metaphor, I promise). Because, yes, they’re going to miss (and miss big) a few times. But when they hit their mark, they’ll really hit it big.

But you’re not going to hit it big if you don’t take a big swing. Which brings me to my point. Unlike Brave, Monsters University – Pixar’s latest release which I foretold would prophesize the future of Pixar – didn’t seem to be trying too hard. It wasn’t aiming too high.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good movie. I enjoyed it. But it was…actually, I think the characters of the movie summarized it best.

we're ok

It’s not that MU didn’t have its moments. The designs were really creative, the photo real animation in the “real world” was impressive, and the third act definitely had an interesting moral. But beyond that it’s your pretty standard frat-buddy flick. Albeit one with significantly less potty humor. And the movie seems, well, ‘OK’ with that. [Big Bro’s note: Nicely punned.]

In fact, you know what? If Brave was the Mike Wazowksi of Pixar, Monsters University was the Sully. James Sullivan is the cool kid on campus who doesn’t try very hard but coasts by on his natural talent and family name (his father was a famous scarer). But after the initial shock and awe of his appearance, he fails to impress. Everyone knows he can do better.

Likewise, Monsters University is a naturally good movie. It’s a fun idea with a lot of creative potential and wonderful, beloved characters. And it very much trades on the name of its superior father-movie Monsters Inc, and the even bigger family name of Pixar. So we all wanted to see it. But…it just didn’t seem to be trying too hard. It wasn’t trying to achieve the depth and magnitude that Up!, Wall-E, Toy Story and so many other Pixar movies have accomplished and that Brave valiantly attempted.

Personally, I think Monsters University is a better movie than Brave. But I like Brave better. I like what it was trying to do. I like that it was really attempting to take me somewhere grand and amazing.

Brave didn’t make me worry about Pixar’s future. MU does. It felt like they were half-assing it. C’mon, Pixar, you know you’re better than this! Your slower friend Dreamworks can make a movie like Madagascar 3 and call it art, and I’m fine with it. But not you. You’re too talented.

Monsters University makes me wary of Finding Dory. I already expressed my concerns that Pixar was lowering the bar and deciding to rehash their greatest hits in order to sell merchandise, and MU did little to comfort me.

Get it together, Pixar. We want more Mikes. Not Sullys. Take your own advice. Reach for the sky.