By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
Consider it no great loss if your future college kid doesn’t attend director Dan Scanlon’s “Monsters University,” a disappointing prequel to “Monsters, Inc.” (2001) delivered with an ultimately curious message in useless 3-D. While Billy Crystal and John Goodman reprise their verbalizations, most of the first film’s supporting staff fails to matriculate.
But it’s lack of magic, vision and artistry that keeps this underachiever from entry into Filmdom’s Ivy League of kiddy flicks. Embarrassingly bereft of all inspiration beyond the profit incentive, the unimaginative screenplay recalls the desperation of a student looking to copy from an, ahem, smarter source. The result is pointlessly cumbersome.
Aside from some vaunted booing and visual ballyhooing as freshmen monsters Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman) try to earn degrees in scaring, there’s little in this G-rated animation to hold Taylor or Britney’s interest. Or, as my succinct review for the fortune cookie company reads: A story seeking common ground between child and adult finds only the error of its ways.
This alleged adult enjoyed the story only for the early exposition as rituals of freshman year nostalgically jogged memories of those initial days at dear Olde Ivy Film Criticism College: the wondrous uncertainties, the posturing, the discovery, the outlandish tales, and most of all the crazy characters with whom you would share the defining experience.
From there it’s all downhill, the droning on of formulaic notions deficient in any true creative joy. The saga is enunciated with the perfunctory bedtime story cadence of the babysitter you only hire when the really good one is busy. With a running time of 110 minutes, accompanying adults will wish Pixar didn’t give you your money’s worth.
But little movie palates don’t care about the pompous perceptions of those engaged in speculating which movies they’ll like. Inscrutably picking and choosing nonetheless, solely by chance some moppets between 5 and 8 will find this film mildly amusing. They may even want a DVD to play the den ad nauseam. Big deal if they can’t follow the plot.
But it’ll be the change of venue, a place to be rambunctious with other ragamuffins en masse and the concession stand that wows them more than the movie. I think if it weren’t for the fact that I was “being good” the day I saw “Monsters University,” a “Best Value”-sized popcorn bucket, some Whoppers and a Baby Ruth might have ameliorated matters.
You see, until they do the sci-fi thing in their teens, discover subtitles at the art house when in college and then more or less cultivate their cinema tastes whilst spooning around for a mate, it’s really just an outing. The studios hope you’ll take ‘em, good reviews or bad. So, you pass this one off on the grandparents if possible. You won’t fool them, but then, they know you by now.
In any case, per Dr. Halberstoddter back at Olde Ivy, “No matter how insipid the movie and how inane a task it seems, it behooves the critic to devote at least a few words to the film’s gist.” Which puts me in a sort of spot. To inform what disgruntles most about the movie’s purport, I’ll have to give away a bit and make you swear you won’t tell Junior.
That agreed, note that, no matter how things go for Mike and Sulley at Monsters University, we know that later, in “Monsters, Inc.,” they will become gainfully employed, probably have their own apartment, health benefits and maybe even a 401k. Save for their relative happiness, what more could a parent ask? But the road to that goal winds oddly.
The film ends rather bizarrely. That is, unless you’re aiming to teach the kid a really big lesson in existentialism. Fact is, except for winning some bragging rights, the guys don’t do very well at school. And what’s worse, it isn’t for lack of effort, especially in Wazowski’s case. Geez…Bush graduates Yale, and these guys can’t even…oh well.
With all respect to Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and any other billionaire wunderkinds who’ve proved that you don’t need a diploma to make tons of money, I doubt there’s a high school guidance counselor in the country who points out their path as an option: ‘Let’s see Billy, you can go to Harvard, Stanford, or, maybe just invent something, huh?’
You might as well advise them to shoot for one of the 400 spots in the NBA. But back to it, perhaps the flaunted lack of academic progress is meant to promote the fun side of failing. All of which might suggest that, while “Monsters University” doesn’t prove very funny to either us or our own little monsters, its founders had a blast flunking this review.
“Monsters University,” rated G, is a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release directed by Dan Scanlon and stars the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi. Running time: 104 minutes
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