Yesterday I was lucky enough to get tickets to an early screening of Pixar’s latest feature, Monsters University, the prequel to their 2001 blockbuster Monsters, Inc. As I made my way along London’s Southbank towards the British Film Institute, my excitement grew as this wasn’t just a screening of the film but also a Q&A session with the film’s producer Kori Rae and its director Dan Scanlon.
The first treat of the evening was of course the short film that accompanies every Pixar feature, and this particular film did not disappoint. The Blue Umbrella, directed by Saschka Unseld, was at first unrecognisable as an animation. The level of detail was astounding, the style and lighting extremely romantic and I was mesmerised throughout. This was quickly overshadowed when, in the film, it started to rain. Water is something Pixar have always pushed the boundaries of in regards to computer simulation (an example would be the sewer rapids scene in Ratatouille) and this was no exception. I won’t give anything away in regards to the story but effects and animation aside, the title characters emote as much heart as any other Pixar character to date and there is a real sense of danger, excitement and friendship. Things that are common place when talking about Pixar but something they still do so well.
On to the main event. The first thing to note about Monsters University is the humour. I have been following the director on twitter ever since he was announced back in 2011. Dan Scanlon is a funny guy and this comes across in the film. The laughs come thick and fast from the start and continue right through to the end of the credits. There is a great mix of juvenile and intelligent humor not yet explored in any other Pixar film. This is a kid friendly, animated Animal House… with monsters. That’s not to say that this film doesn’t have heart, it does, maybe not as much as some other Pixar films (you can leave your tissues at home) but what makes this film stand out is the laughs.
There are a plethora of new characters in this film, in literally hundreds of shapes and sizes. The supporting cast was loveable and hilarious, which is one of the reasons you don’t have to be a fan of the original film to enjoy this outing. The voice talents perform superbly, Billy Crystal and John Goodman manage to give their characters a great sense of youth, which, considering bother the actors are in their 60’s is applaudable. Helen Mirren doesn’t disappoint as the stern and formidable Dean Hardscrabble and there are also a few cameos from monsters you will recognise for the original film. It is important to note that Pixar are recording two or more of the actors at once for certain scenes, something that has not been the case for a while in animation, but as it slowly comes into common practice is adding to the experience. The voice talents are able to bounce off each other and improvise, giving spontaneity to the characters dialogue, bringing them to life even more than before. As Scanlon pointed out in the Q&A, spontaneity is something that used to take the film makers 4 years to accomplish… told you he was funny.
Characters and writing aside, the film is beautiful. The monster world is looking lusher and more detailed than before with a great style. The trapezoid features prominently throughout design giving that slightly surreal feeling to objects and buildings. The lighting and texturing are a leap forward from previous films but rendered with believability, that is to say they have pulled back on the realism to the perfect degree. Animation wise this film is without a doubt one of the best I have ever seen. Every character moves with his or her own superb personality, some subtle, some far from subtle and each one has perfect timing that helps to deliver that stampede of humour. The acting delivered by the animators is memorable, just when you think the studio couldn’t improve on something they have mastered, they push it even further and for someone who looks out for that sort of thing I was extremely impressed.
This is Pixar back on form. Not to say that I felt they were ever off form but I think this is a film that will stand up to the high expectations the press have had for the studio in recent years. Like I said the film will not have you bawling your eyes out like the first 10 minutes of Up, but it makes up for it with laughs. It is a stunning feat of animation with an abundance of style that will captivate you right until the end of the credits. This is, I hope, the shape of things to come with Pixar. Their recent announcement of future release dates had me excited at first, but after seeing Monsters University I cannot wait to see what they bring to our cinemas over the next 5 years. I will be going to see this film again when it comes out in July (here in the UK) and I will be taking all of my family, as this is a masterpiece that can be enjoyed thoroughly by all.
If you’d like to see the film early yourself (and live in the Phoenix, AZ area) check out our contest here!