Incredibly Off-Topic: A Few Thoughts Re. Monsters University (w/spoilers)
So, my family finally got around to watching Monsters University, the completely unnecessary prequel to Monsters, Inc. Thoughts:
--It was actually a lot better than I was expecting. No, it's not in the upper echelon of Pixar's library, but it's a solid addition. I'd rank it about 10th out of the 14 Pixar movies to date (below Ratatouille and WALL-E, but above Brave, A Bug's Life, Cars or Cars 2).
--Pixar's biggest problem these days is twofold: First, they set the bar so high with masterpieces such as Toy Story 2 & 3, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo and Up that when they make a movie that's "merely" very good it seems "disappointing" by comparison.
At the same time, when Pixar was kicking ass and taking names, they also had very little serious competition; the other studios tried to ape Pixar technically, but without having the storytelling/character/dialogue chops. That's changed over the past few years, however; movies like How to Train Your Dragon, Tangled, the Lego Movie, (the first) Despicable Me, (the first) Ice Age and Wreck-It Ralph have proven that the other studios have seriously upped their game. That's good for everyone, but it also ups the ante further for Pixar these days.
SPOILERS BELOW, but first a list of Pixar movies ranked in order by my personal preference:
- Finding Nemo - This would probably rank lower if I didn't have a young son, but I do. It's the Field of Dreams of the 2000's.
- Toy Story 2 - As close to perfect as a film can get. Ironically, it was originally scheduled by Disney to be a piece-of-crap direct-to-video cash grab.
- Toy Story 3 - I'm still amazed they were able to wrap up the trilogy so strongly. John Lasseter now says they're making a 4th one at some point, which I think would be a massive mistake. Even if it was really good, enough is enough; TS3 ended the series perfectly. I'm OK with the occasional TS shorts, but a 4th one would have to be phenomenal to justify it's existence.
- The Incredibles - The only Pixar movie which actually demands a sequel, yet seemingly the only one they aren't making a sequel for. Go figure.
- Toy Story - The story is actually the thinnest of the 3, but it was the first Pixar movie and of course introduced Woody, Buzz and the gang, so it still makes the top 5.
- Up - The 2nd half isn't as strong as the start, but it's made up for by the character of Carl Fredricksen and especially the absolutlely astonishing "Married Life" sequence, which tells a more beautiful and heartbreaking love story in 4 minutes and 21 seconds than any other film or book I've ever seen or read.
- WALL-E: It loses something special once the actual human beings show up, as there's no actual dialogue for about the first 40 minutes. The character is basically a cross between E.T. and R2D2, with a bit of Johnny 5 from Short Circuit thrown in.
- Monsters, Inc. - The first one was just plain fun, the character of Boo was adorable, and the final shot was perfect (which is why I'm grateful that they decided to go with a prequel instead of a sequel (again, a straight-to-video knock-off) this time).
- Ratatouille - I wasn't a big fan of the characters or the story, but I give it props for being the most beautiful love letter to fine cuisine I've ever seen. Plus, I like that the restaurant still gets closed down in the end (yeah, it's a little spoiler, get over it).
- Monsters University - As noted above. No one asked for it, but it turned out to be lots of fun, even if the story was awfully reminiscent of Revenge of the Nerds. Without Boo, it just isn't the same, though.
- Brave - Pixar was hoping that this one would resonate as strongly with mother/daughter relationships as Finding Nemo did with father/son relationships, and it came close for the first half...but the whole second half just didn't feel right to me. It felt like two completely disconnected films, which is no doubt due to the fact that the first director and Pixar's first female director, Brenda Chapman, left partway through and the film was finished by a male counterpart. The end product isn't bad at all, but it's just off.
- A Bug's Life - Just a fun animated insect version of the Seven Samurai. People don't necessarily dislike A Bug's Life, they tend to just forget it altogether, but I liked it.
- Cars - I absolutely hated it the first time I saw it, but for some reason it started to grow on me upon repeated viewings (my son was 4 when he watched it the first time, so of course he wanted to watch it every weekend).
- Cars 2 - AKA "The Merchandising Tie-In Cach Grab". I actually didn't hate it nearly as much as most people, but I'm fairly forgiving of movies when I "see what they were going for". Lasseter, a huge car nut, basically wanted to do three things: 1) make a Bond/Our Man Flint-like spy thriller using cars; 2) feed his passion for cars by showing as many cool foreign models as he could; and 3) make Disney a buttload of merchandising cash off the wallets of the parents of young boys. Mission accomplished on all 3 counts, but it's still by far the weakest of Pixar's films to date (let's hope it stays that way).
The only real problem I had with was the very ending (not really a spoiler since it's a prequel). After their big front-page story broke, they wouldn't have had to work their way up from the mail room after getting kicked out of school. Monsters Inc. would've hired them as a Scare Team anyway, and here's why:
Most corporations don't really give a crap about your official academic record, they care about how much you'll help them increase profits (hell, this was even the major plot point of the first movie). Sullivan was a Hot Commodity after the stunt, and he would've insisted on bringing Mike along for the ride or no deal. If anything, there would've been a bidding war between Monsters Inc, FearCo and so on. The fact that Sullivan/Mike cheated on a competition and damaged some property in college would be forgotten soon after the incident; it's the potential which they demonstrated which would entice their future employer.
For that matter, Dean Hardscrabble essentially made the same point by letting the rest of their team back in the program even though they were technically disqualified. Furthermore, Pixar had earlier made this exact same point (albeit in a far less cynical way) with the ending of the first Cars movie, when Dinoco tries to hire Lightning McQueen as their spokesman even though he technically "lost" the Piston Cup (which he would then go on to win 4 times according to the sequel anyway).
--I actually like making Randall start out as Mike's roommate instead of Sully (the obvious setup would be to make Mike and Sully roommates from the start, with Mike the book nerd and Sully the slobby jock), before gradually turning into a jerk. However, they should've spent a bit more time developing this, because Randall starts off being a pretty nice guy/friend of Mike's; they only make a couple of vague references to him "wanting to fit in with the cool kids" and the transition is a bit too abrupt for me.
--For anyone disappointed re. Pixar jumping on the sequel/prequel bandwagon whole-hog after claiming they weren't going to early in the company's development, bear in mind that, as noted above, Disney was planning on making (terrible) sequels to their earlier work regardless of whether Pixar wanted to or not. At least with Pixar on board, the sequels/prequels turned out to be decent movies.