“Monsters University” and “Blue Umbrella” Reader Talkback

Pixar’s fourteenth feature film, Monsters University, opens this weekend in the U.S. and many other countries. The film, directed by Dan Scanlon, is playing better with audiences, who have given it a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, than with critics, whose reviews currently stand at 77% positive. In the New York Times review, Manohla Dargis offers the typical dissenting viewpoint that suggests Pixar has been unable to fix the clumsy and cliched storytelling that had mired the studio’s previous two efforts:

[T]he story remains disappointingly familiar, mired in recycled buddy movie dynamics and the usual child-developmental directives about finding yourself and learning to work well with others. Both the originality and stirring emotional complexity of Monsters, Inc., with its exquisitely painful and touching parallels with the human world, are missing…

The feature is accompanied by a new photorealistic Pixar short, The Blue Umbrella, directed by Saschka Unseld. Check out both films and report back here with your opinion in the comments below. As always, this talkback is open only to those who have seen the film and wish to share an opinion about it.

(Monsters University billboard via Daily Billboard)


  • canimal

    I wasn’t very impressed. It was certainly better than Brave or Cars 2, but it wasn’t great. I really enjoyed the funny references to the original film and thought the use of dramatic irony as jokes throughout the movie was a nice touch. But other than that the jokes were hit or miss, and more often than not, they were the latter. As for the plot, it was a fun idea, however there were a lot of pacing issues that took away from the overall impact of the story. The first couple of scenes and the last ten or so minutes were the best parts, but the rest of it was just OK. Some scenes desperately needed to be slowed down, in particular the scene with Mike in the final event of the scare games and Mike and Sully in the cabin scaring the adults. It has none of the heart of the first movie, but I guess I wasn’t really expecting it to. Oh, and the side characters were a lot of fun. And as always, it was gorgeous, no surprise there. Not their best by a long shot but not their worst either.

  • RickyB

    Umbrella short was pretty dope. The visual style was the winning element of this short film, very bold and well done.

    Monsters U was a decent flick. Solid storytelling and animation of course. It didn’t really do much for me overall but it certainly wasn’t bad. Just didn’t have really stand out moments that take a movie to the next level. Story felt like a worthy prequel to Monsters Inc. It felt like the same world and a confident lead up to one of their earliest movies. Some good laughs here and there.

    Baby-Mike was incredibly adorable, along with the muppet long-legged dude. Great character work.

    It’s a well executed movie. A bit bland but still enjoyable. Like pancakes.

    • rickyb

      Also.. it was missing a Triple Lindy.

  • Joe Queen

    The Blue Umbrella was simply amazing! The first minute or so, I couldn’t tell it was CG and they did a great bringing character to the photorealistic background characters (mailbox, water drain, etc…). The umbrella characters were also very endearing which made you feel for the characters.

    Monsters U was a very fun flick for a sequel. They introduced a lot of neat characters while building on the backstory of Monsters Inc.

    Great family films for the summer.

    • Ju-osh

      “The first minute or so, I couldn’t tell it was CG.”

      I dunno. Is this really something to strive for…in a cartoon? And if an identical recreation of reality is now an animator’s goal, do we take points off for using real-life sources for the sound effects? Are synthetic voices and sfx the next big thing at Pixar (where, lest we ever forget, “story is king”).

      Grim, grinning gripes aside, I agree with Joe’s final assessment:

      “Great family films for the summer.”

      • rickyb

        Everything is worth striving for. Why limit an avenue of expression.

      • Trique

        Relax, Umbrella was great. They can strive for what they want to strive for. Every film is different and has it’s own style.

  • Mr Arrow

    I kept anticipating an all out knock your socks of ending to rival the climax of the first film…it didn’t happen…not that there was anything wrong with the route they took but I didn’t feel as emotionally invested as I have with every other Pixar flick and when the credits finally rolled I made for the door…every other Pixar flick I’m usually still mesmerised even as the credits roll…for every laugh a tear? (Pixar motto) I guess it made me realise how brilliantly the first one was structured…not bad but I felt a little underwhelmed when it was all over…

  • Cheese

    My nephew and niece loved the movie very much. I see no problem with Pixar’s “Monsters University,” except it kind of reminds me off “Revenge of the Nerds (SPOILER ALERT: except they didn’t seek revenge).”

    “The Blue Umbrella” was kind of cute, but reminds me of Disney’s “Paperman.”

  • Mathieu Leblanc

    I thought the film was good but very predictable , I loved how our local theatre invited our local elementary school ( I was invited since I was drawing in one of the classes as a caricaturist ) to a special screening the morning of its premiere , I love how they removed the posters of other movies and replaced them with class flyers and Monsters Inc themed signs and flyers such as the one for the CDA or one advertising Harryhausens and several real doors lying around covered in stickers , it was pretty cool :)

  • Chris Nyarady

    So is this Pixar’s deepest film? Definitely not. Even with a very poignant 3rd act and a surprisingly dramatic monologue from Billy Crystal’s Mike, its themes don’t nearly resonate as deeply as something like Wall-E, Up, Ratatouille, the Toy Story franchise, or even Monsters, Inc. But is it one of Pixar’s funniest films? Well… actually, probably. It’s up there!

    See my full review at: http://moo-cartoon.blogspot.ca/2013/06/monsters-university-review.html

  • Roberto González

    My feelings were very mixed, but at the end I felt a little like Mr. Arrow when the credits rolled. I just wanted to leave the theater. I did stay though, if only cause I suspected there would be an extra gag at the end (there was one, it was…ok, nothing great), but it was more of an obligation to know if there was something than the fact that I was very engaged. I loved the first thirty minutes or so and the first one was probably my fave Pixar flick. Maybe that was part of the problem, that it couldn’t possibly be as good as the first one. But I also think it didn’t quite capture the same spirit overall even if it was pretty close at certain moments and it was really funny in some places. I loved Art and I kinda wished he had a bigger role.

    I thought the prologue was fantastic from the pidgeon gag to Baby Mike’s cuteness and the starting credit titles gave me the feeling that Mike would look really great in 2D animation. I also enjoyed Mike and Sully’s rivalry, cliched as it may be, it almost felt like Toy Story 1 at parts. But I felt that in order to turn Mike into the dramatic character they made him a little less neurotic and maybe too brave? I mean, he really lost his nerves a lot more when Boo arrived to their world. Even Sully was scared. Here they don’t seem to be so worried or scared about the children.

    As much as I love these characters I almost felt it would have felt
    fresher with another world and characters, cause I actually thought that
    the college comedy angle is kind of new in the animated and I found it
    ok in that respect.

    Also not sure about this but even if they tried hard to include a dramatic touch and a ‘point’ to the story a part of me wish it would have been just non stop laughs from start to finish. Although there were very nice jokes in it and I enjoyed the use of some cartooniness and physical humor in some of the proofs. But maybe a movie like that would be something that I would like to rewatch more often than what we really got.

    Overall it’s a very well done movie, but it looks like we already know Pixar’s tricks and it felts a little unnecessary…

    I felt simmilar about The Blue Umbrella actually. It’s technically one of their best in a while and the visuals and music were very nice, but the love story with little conflict wasn’t really very unpredictable…or at all…At least Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet had more adventures and a really nice song. And people smoking and something simmilar to a bordello, which is something you rarely see in a Disney movie.

    • Jason W.

      I think Mike being less neurotic and more “brave” is actually pretty believable in the context of the prequel. Most of us live through our college years with a sort-of invincibility and the idea that anything is possible. Flash-forward to “Monsters Inc.”…Mike is older (40s?) and perhaps less self-confident–or totally panicked about losing a job he worked incredibly hard to get.

      • Roberto González

        That’s a good explanation. I can totally see how somebody could be moré neurótic or worried about his job in his forties. Still I think him and Sulley are genuinely scared of Boo as if thet had never been that close to a human girl before. Actually I think Monsters University could hint that Mike’s aventure at the end could have a post traumátic effect. But I think they lost the chance of making It moré clear by Mike remarking that all those little girls in the camping scared the hell out of him and that he never wanted to see a little girl ever again.

  • Joel

    I enjoyed it very much! Granted, it wasn’t Pixar’s most ambitious movie to date, but it was very entertaining and funny throughout! As far as the story goes, the stakes aren’t as high as in the first movie (especially since, this being a prequel, you know from the outset how Mike and Sulley’s lives will eventually turn out), but what story and character development there is was certainly better than I had expected from a “them backin college” prequel. Also, this movie’s LOADED with fun/hilarious jokes, gags, and visuals, and much to my delight, there were moments that had the kids laughing and moments that had mainly the adults in the theater cracking up! I had as much fun watching it as I did “Hotel Transylvania” (which would be a WHOLE lot). Unfortunately, I walked into the theater JUST as “The Blue Umbrella” was ending, so I won’t have any thoughts on that until I see it in its entirety.

  • Hankenshift

    I thought it was OK. But it sure seemed to be screaming in every scene for attention, from almost every point of view. The animation, the voice acting, the color and lighting was all so obvious, over done and not well directed or produced outside of the basic plot. That said, I did laugh a few times (but never once at billy crystal, who’s just annoying and grating).

    The umbrella cartoon was OK. Not sure why they attempted to make it “realistic” to only through dots on for eyes–didn’t really work for me. The music was really annoying, too. Cute enough, but I was surprised at the lack of character from a Pixar short. Not exactly Oscar material, but it’s thankfully short.

  • SarahJesness

    “The Blue Umbrella” was decent, it had some cool ideas but the story was really generic.

    “Monsters University” was better than I expected. “Monsters Inc.” is not a movie that demands a sequel/prequel, and I’m rather annoyed with Pixar’s recent trend of giving sequels to movies that don’t open themselves up too well to it. “Toy Story”, I think, really works as a film series because the premise leaves itself open to more stories without having to force it. A person watching the first “Toy Story” might go “This is a great movie with an interesting premise. But what happens when the owner of a toy doesn’t want it any more?”. The second movie addresses that. Then the viewer might say “This movie was great! But what happens when toys get thrown away?”. The third movie addresses that.

    I think “The Incredibles” can offer some good sequel material, because it ends with the characters and the world going through a major change. Superheroes are accepted again and the family members all become superheroes. How do they deal with this? There are a lot of new challenges they can face in this new situation, which makes it all the more irritating that Pixar is giving sequels to movies that won’t work as well. “Monsters University” was a good movie but nobody watched the first film and thought “This is a great movie! But I want to know what they were like while they were in college!”.

    But I’m griping too much here. It really is a good movie and I’m glad I saw it. It’s not an emotional masterpiece but it was enjoyable and had some good humor. I think it could’ve used better marketing; all the ads focused on “wild crazy college stuff happens lolololol!” but the movie only has a few scenes like that.

    Animation was good, as is expected of Pixar. When reviewing a Pixar movie, you don’t even have to mention it because it’s a given. I just brought it up because I wanted to say I LOVE the design of the dean. All totally creepy and stuff! I would love to see Pixar do more “scary” characters and creatures in future films.

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com ElliotCowan

    I assume the guys who made the umbrella film are fans of Andy London’s Lost Tribes of New York.

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com ElliotCowan

    James.
    Pixar regularly includes a short film with their features.
    Consider it a freebie.

  • SarahJesness

    I don’t know if the creators of the movie intended to get it across, but I do like what the message of the story was, that sometimes we fail and sometimes we can’t achieve our dream, but that’s okay.

    • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com ElliotCowan

      I thought the message was “You don’t need to do well at school to succeed”.

      • lovenorthern

        It kinda was both, Mike didn’t achieve his dream but he found another way to be happy and Sully achieved his dream without doing well in school. It may not have hit home for young kids or adults watching the movie, but for the group of us who grew up with Monster Inc and are now heading off to college, it was pretty powerful. It was almost like they were speaking directly to us, exploring our excitement and our fears.

  • Alexei Baboulevitch

    I can’t believe the critical response to this movie! Monsters University is one of the best Pixar films I’ve seen in years — even better than Toy Story 3. It has tons of character, it has great pacing (and no deus ex machinas!), it’s raucously funny, and it’s (at least in part) a beautiful homage to the Bay Area. I also appreciate that it doesn’t have the typical feel-good plot arc of most Pixar movies. The Blue Umbrella is fantastic as well, if only for the uncannily photorealistic (and yet subtly stylized) art style. I was blown away whenever the scenery started to emote.

  • Ju-osh

    Beautifully said! Honestly, I think your comment had more ‘heart’ than the whole pic, but I also think that folks who are on the fence about seeing it will read your comment and decide, ‘Now I’ve GOTTA go!’

  • Alex Printz

    Umbrella short was nice, but like some of my friends who went to see it, I was left thinking “Didn’t Paperman just do this story?”

    Monsters U was pretty predictable… but it was better than I expected to be. I’ll agree with Manohla that there was less development in this film than the original Monsters, and the film felt like it went over the edge with its character stereotyping, yet watered-down, G-rated plots. I enjoyed it, but really have no desire to watch it again.

    I will say that I thought the star of the show was Pixar’s new Global Illumination. Suffice to say, the lighting in both the short and the film is absolutely beautiful, and I found myself being drawn into the environments much more than the Disney-college storyline and characters. Impressive looking CG film… even if it is the same old bland character tropes that Pixar is known for. Great for kids, not so great for all adults.

  • Nikolas

    This film was disappointing. The only gag that was a surprise was the opening one with the pigeon. Acts 1 and 2 were cliched and predictable (every hackneyed gag and reference about colliege was there). Act 3 was better but it’s too bad they didn’t have a “showstopper” sequence like the wonderful chase through the doors that was in Monsters Inc. (still one of Pixar’s most fantastic action sequences). Monsters U is one of Pixar’s weaker films but it’s safe and innocuous entertainment for the kiddies so it should make a decent amount of money this summer. I just wish it could have been more, but I’m not surprised that it wasn’t.

  • Nate

    I thought that one of the only really redeeming parts of the short was the character and expression achieved with the street faces, which was kind of a animated experiment with pareidolia. I loved the visuals, but the story was un-engaging.

  • Skip

    The Umbrella short was well done, possibly one of the studio’s best shorts to date. in my opinion. I have read the complaints in this thread by people disappointed by the closeness to realism, but didn’t pixar attempt a closeness to realistic visual effects with Luxo Jr, and I have never heard any one make a complaint there?

    As for Monsters University. I agree that it didn’t acheve the same level of emotional depth as its predecessor, but they were also different films with different objectives and different stories to tell. If someone is going to make a horror film, than it needs to be scary and if someone is making a mystery than it needs to be suspenseful. The tone of this film was different than the original, because it’s about a different phase in the lives of these characters. Over all I liked the film, though not as much as the first one. That said I think that two feature films are more than enough for these characters. I don’t think the monsters inc cow should bare that much milk, although I wouldn’t mind seeing shorts with these characters. Just my thoughts.

  • CC

    I really enjoyed this film! I see no problem in creating a fun, satisfying film- not every Pixar film has to rip your heart out and stomp on it. Am I wrong?
    It’s unfortunate to read some pretty rough criticisms of this film- the main being, “well, we already know HOW this is going to end so why bother with a prequel”. I actually thought they set it up quite well, the fact that we do know how it ends is what makes the story engaging- especially when characters like Randal show up. I also loved that this was more of Mike’s perspective- I definitely related to that big eyeball in this film. Also, here’s to some of the best gags in any pixar film (especially the very first one).
    As for the umbrella short, I appreciate something different being presented in the CG animation world. The story was just so-so.
    After sitting through those terrible trailers for the other up coming animated films- Monsters U let me breath easy.

  • jhalpernkitcat

    I walked into the theater to see the movie today with my boyfriend–we both already knew what to expect. Of course it wouldn’t hold a candle to “Monsters Inc” which I loved so much when it first came out and still holds a dear spot in my heart, but it would definitely be fun and a decent film to take the entire family to see. (Sort of the equivalent of seeing “”Despicable Me” after seeing the Toy Story 3 a few years ago.)

    Anyhow, The beginning with little Mike was adorable, and a spot on depiction of a field trip with little kids.

    As for the actual college, I loved the designs for the monsters–in particular Dean Hardscrabble’s was fantastic with her unfolding wings and centipede legs. Squishy was adorable and I share his trait of scaring the crap out of people by just silently appearing out of nowhere. I also loved that an older college character was added–the perfect character to relate to the adults. The truth is, all the O.K. monsters were really great characters and I’d love to find out what became of them career wise in the future. (Art, although sadly underused, had some great lines such as “I can’t go back to jail!” and his maniac energy was great.)

    Also I kind of liked that the story actually went with Sully and Mike having to work their way up from the bottom of Monsters’ Inc rather than magically being unexpelled from Monsters U in the end. Also my boyfriend and I got a kick out of some rather familiar faces showing briefly up such as George (the poor monster who gets a sock stuck on him), Rozz, and the Abominable Snowman. (Also my boyfriend was having a giggle fit when he saw that afro on a young Waternoose.)

    Also, I don’t know about anyone else, but I could not stop laughing at “The Princess Bride” reference when a sleeping Mike was kissing Sully’s hand.Very clever.

    As for “The Blue Umbrella” I thought it was cute–loved how happy the little blue guy was and all the cute faces in the buildings and other objects.

  • James EdWard Kennedy JR

    A quick question…
    Was Doug Sweetland originally tapped to direct Monsters U? He is credited with a research photo in the Art of Book for the movie.