(Dan Scanlon, 2013)
It's pretty good, Monsters University. It's funny, its characters are well-drawn and sympathetic, its plot is gripping, and it is chock-full of beautiful images and knockout set-pieces.
But this is Pixar, and it is becoming increasingly obvious that for Pixar, pretty good isn't good enough.
That is another way of saying that this might be the formerly infallible animation studio's safest, tamest, laziest film yet. Even the mostly-reviled Cars 2 took risks - it was an outright delirious rainbow-hued piece of toddler-bait, with fewer concessions to parental entertainment than any previous Pixar production.
But Monsters University feels somewhat painted by numbers. It has all of the requisite Pixar ingredients, but they never quite combine into the dazzling Pixar classic people have been awaiting since Toy Story 3 ended.
Underlining the fact that this film (just like Cars 2) is a blatant piece of advertisement, devised mostly to sell toys and merchandise, the story is a prequel, introducing us to Mike and Sully during their college years in the Scare School at Monsters University. They hate each other at first, but are forced together by circumstance, and the film then pits them against various other characters in a long intra-sorority competition, allowing it some of the suspense of a sports movie. As such I think it has more montages than any other film I've ever seen, each of them nicely scored by Randy Newman, lots of great sight-gags slipping by. The montages never hold up the sentimentality you always know is coming, and it comes in a double-barrelled climax, which, like every Pixar climax, somehow manages to be thrilling, beautifully choreographed, touching and funny.
But beyond that, that other dimension so often present in earlier Pixar work is absent, and this film, more than any other, makes me worry that its never coming back.