'Monsters University' review: Part annoying cartoon, part fun adventure
The latest Pixar offering is a two-headed monster - one head is an unremarkable-to-cloying CGI kid's movie while the other head is a daring adventure and thoughtful story.
In short: Mike Wazowski and 'Sulley' Sullivan fight to attend the prestigious scaring program during their freshmen year at Monsters University. (watch the trailer)
The first half of 'University' is little more than visual gags and bumbling pratfalls. While it does set up the framework for the rest of the film, it unfortunately does so while making cheap, silly jokes designed solely to make easily amused children giggle.
The original 'Monsters, Inc' was able to punch out silly jokes that appealed to audiences of all ages - gags that were funny, but also contributed to character development or story progression. Many bits in the first half are shallow, stupid gags only aimed for knee-jerk chuckles.
Eventually, 'University' establishes very real stakes for Mike and Sully, while also fleshing out many of the supporting characters. Somehow, 'University' becomes an exciting story where Mike, Sully and their frat brothers evolve from one-note monsters into fun, engaging characters.
The second half of 'University' is a truly heartfelt, thrilling and surprisingly heartfelt film that salvages the overall film from being an over-the-top silly, low IQ kids flicks. Many of the supporting monsters languish as one note write-offs for much of the movie, but they unexpectedly blossom into interesting characters who each contribute directly to the heart of the overall narrative.
The core of this film (not surprisingly) is the Mike and Sully relationship - and 'University' works very well in establishing their character conflict and how they eventually become the close friends we know in 'Inc.' Even when this movie wallows in stupid jokes, these two characters have heart and clear personalities. Without spoiling anything, the ending is a little surprising and very endearing.
Despite however strong the second half of 'University' is, the insipid first half drastically drags down the overall quality of 'Monsters University' as a whole. Great animated films can be cute or silly - but they also tell a compelling story from beginning to end, rejecting the easy impulse to just cram a script with a ton of softball monster puns.
Final verdict: 'Monsters University' starts out of the blocks no better than any standard CGI children's film, however, it eventually gains traction and becomes a story worthy the Pixar pedigree.