‘Monsters University’ review, plus my feelings on computer animated movies in general

5

October 19, 2013 by Hope W.

Mike and Sulley meet for the first time in Monsters University

Mike and Sulley meet for the first time in Monsters University

Monsters University was delightful. Not as heartwarming as Monsters, Inc., or tearjerking as Toy Story 3, but still a fun and spirited romp nonetheless. It’s a standard underdog, zero-to-hero, enemies-to-best-friends story, but who says classic tropes are a bad thing? Especially when you have talented animators like those at Pixar filling every frame with such detail and colour. And the folks at Pixar have always been great at telling stories, even tried-and-true ones.

The detail that went into the school is remarkable

You can freeze-frame at any point, and it would be just as pretty.

You could learn a thing or two about storytelling sleight of hand from the movie. They kept Mike in character by having him plan to stay in his room to study, but with just a simple plot device of having Sulley accidentally break into his room with an overactive pig — also in keeping with *his* character — they successfully took the action outside and showed what was happening at the frat parties throughout the entire campus. They also managed to avoid treading the territory of the first movie of showing monsters scaring actual children, except for one instance in the beginning — which is remarkable, considering that it is a movie about monsters training to scare children after all.

And the best thing is that they kept the ending real. There was no deus ex machina where the dean resolved their sins and allowed them to stay in school and graduate with top honours. They had to work their way up from the mailroom; which of course they would do so successfully, because the film is about how they are unbeatable, together.

While Pixar has yet to reclaim the heights of Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3 in their recent offerings (Brave was very good, but it can’t be compared to Toy Story 3), I will always prefer their movies to those of the other computer animation studios. You can always tell a Pixar product from the quality of their stories — which may be tearjerking, but never saccharinely sappy (which Wreck-It Ralph, though I liked it, devolved into at the very end) — and animation that is always distinguishable and somehow indefinably *better*, even though the other studios have caught up much in the quality of their animations.

Not that I don’t like computer animated movies not done by Pixar, because I (sometimes) do — just not as much. I feel that the problem with the other animated movie studios is that they don’t know how to stop when they have something good, and always bring it a step further and ruin their movie for me.

For example, they will introduce wisecracking, fast-talking characters who would make me laugh more if they didn’t also sound *completely annoying* (the donkey in Shrek, the zebra in Madagascar, THE HAMSTER IN BOLT, whom I liked all the way… until it started talking); or lead characters who are just… dumb (Po in Kungfu Panda, whom I would have liked better if they didn’t give him false bravado); or adorable characters whom the storytellers then overuse (the minions in Despicable Me, who squeaked their way *out* of my heart), or unadorable characters whom I just wanted to strangle for sounding like they do (DON’T get me started on Alvin and the Chipmunks). And I hate it when the characters are too smartass for their own good (the kids in Despicable Me, Vanellope in Wreck-It Ralph, etc. etc.), and I hate it even more when children pick up such smartass talking habits after watching these movies.

Whereas I could be just biased, but I can honestly say that I have never felt any such negativity when watching a Pixar film. (Except Cars 2, which is the only blight in their sterling portfolio.) Even characters like Mike and Russell (the boy in Up) and Rex (the T-Rex in Toy Story), who have so much potential to set off my irritation, never do cross that line.

IT WAS SO ADORABLE. And then it started talking.

IT WAS SO ADORABLE. And then it started talking.

Really, I can go on and on, but I’m beginning to feel bad-tempered thinking about all these animated movies and characters that *could* have been so much better, if not for their one fatal flaw that made them annoying, so I shall stop before I’m accused of being a Grinch.

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5 thoughts on “‘Monsters University’ review, plus my feelings on computer animated movies in general

  1. Patrick says:

    What’s your take on the two “Meatballs” films? How do they fit in?

    • Jialing says:

      I didn’t watch the second Meatball film, but I liked the first one as much as I liked Wreck-It Ralph–which is to say: it was extremely cute and funny, a bit saccharine at parts in its pathos, employed some deus ex machina in the way the conflict was resolved (he keeps around a can of Spray-On Shoes just for emergencies huh?) and had some annoying characters (Baby Brent, even Flint Lockwood sometimes). But overall, I liked it.

      I do like most of the films I mentioned (except Alvin and the Chipmunks. Nothing can induce me to watch those movies. And Despicable Me, because I feel like if I watch it, I will be manipulated into liking it just for the minions, and I don’t like to be played. And I hated the opening of the movie with the hip-hop song. And Steve Carell’s voice for Gru grates on my nerves. I like Steve Carell just fine, but I *cannot* stand listening to him in this movie.)

      It’s all a very subjective thing, but I feel these movies don’t have the perfect combination of elements that Pixar does have, even in its middling movies. The key element being the ability to tell a good story without having to resort to smartass characters for comic relief, or cute characters just to hook you in, or heavyhanded sentimentality to make you feel touched.

    • Jialing says:

      How to Train Your Dragon is really good though. I would put it on par with Brave (if only because of the Scottish accents). And for once, it’s a computer animated movie not done by Pixar that I enjoyed without finding any of the faults I mentioned previously.

      • Patrick says:

        Oh, that. I wasn’t tickled by “How to Train Your Dragon” at all. I found it wooden. Which is why I am not prone to watch the second instalment.

        Especially this dragon that gets trained by the boy. What you said about cute characters, and then some!

        On a somewhat related note, I will never go near “Alvin and the Chipmunks”.

      • Jialing says:

        Yup, it’s all subjective. I’ve noticed (based on box office figures at BoxOfficeMojo) that Singaporeans tend to prefer Dreamworks to Pixar films. And (to my horror), each installment of Ice Age made more money than the last, so 20th Century Fox will probably never stop making them.

        But I’m certainly praying that Alvin and the Chipmunks doesn’t breed another sequel!

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