The term "game changer" gets thrown around a lot these days. It's kind of like the word "classic" in that everyone wants whatever it is they've done to be an "instant classic" (an oxymoron if there ever was one) and a "real game changer." The truth, though, is that there are very few "game changers" out there no matter how much we like to throw the term around. For instance, in my lifetime, the only real game changer has been Apple, first with the personal computer, then with mobile devices. As far as society goes, there haven't really been any other real game changers except, maybe, mobile phones, which was not Apple but probably contributed a lot to what Apple did. Everything else is pretty much as it always was.
Of course, you can narrow your field and look for game changers within specific areas, so let's look at movies. What have been the "game changers" in the movie industry in the last four decades?
1. Star Wars. Star Wars changed the way people think about movies and the way movies are made. Within that, we can just say George Lucas, because he has continued to change movies with what he's done through ILM and digital technology which was, again, ushered in through Star Wars.
2. Blade Runner. This one isn't so obvious, but people within the film industry will often point at Blade Runner as bringing a pervasive look and feel to all movies that have anything to do with the future. You can see the influence of Blade Runner on everything from Minority Report to The Matrix.
3. The Blair Witch Project. Unfortunately. It started a whole new kind of movie making, and, while it's not saturating the marketplace, lots of people feel the need to dabble in it. Like Abrams with Cloverfield.
4. Pixar. Toy Story changed the landscape of the film industry, and Pixar rode that change for over a decade, producing some great and, even, classic films (Classic in that they are are the oldest examples of those types of movies, like Toy Story). Pixar's release of Toy Story in 1995 has probably had the largest effect on movies since the release of Star Wars in 1977. (Interestingly enough, Pixar was a company created by George Lucas and owned by Steve Jobs at the time that Toy Story was released. (It makes me want to say that the greatest shapers of culture in the last four decades can be traced to Jobs and Lucas.))
From the looks of things, though, it may be that it would be more appropriate to say that it was John Lasseter was the real "game changer," because, since he has moved on to other Disney-related projects, the daring and "game changer"ness has gone out of Pixar films, and they have moved to a more standard film formula. Monsters University is no exception.
I loved Monsters, Inc.; it's still one of my favorite Pixar movies. It's a touching movie about friendship and the lengths one monster goes to for a friendship even when he doesn't necessarily agree with his friend. And the relationship between Sully and Boo brought a tear to my eye in his willingness to let go of something that he loves to do what is best for that something. That something being Boo. However, it's the challenging of the norms that make the film standout. It's the demonstration that we ought to be constantly questioning the status quo and tradition so that we know whether there are better ways, now, than there were when those traditions were established that make the film really shine. [And I would bet money on it being a subtle jab at Disney, whom Pixar had fight every step of the way to get Toy Story out in the form we saw it in, because Disney wanted a more traditional story.]
But there is none of that in Monsters University. It is, in every way possible, a standard Disney film. Well, okay, maybe it's not standard Disney, but it's certainly standard. Two guys, rivals, have to learn to work together to overcome some great obstacle and, in so doing, they learn they are great partners. And, because of that, friends. It's the plot of virtually every buddy cop movie out there. Except Monsters U is in a school setting. There is nothing in the movie that is beyond typical.
Which is not to say that it's not enjoyable, because it is. Very enjoyable. It just doesn't feel like Pixar; it feels like Disney. Safe. Traditional. And that's disappointing. Because what we learned from Pixar is that traditional, for them, was challenging tradition. But that was before Disney. Don't get me wrong, Disney can make great films, but they are hardly ever challenging.
All of that said, Monsters U was enjoyable. It was fun to get to see Sully and Mike again and, even, Randall. Dean Hardscrabble was a great, new character, completely freaky, and Helen Mirren was excellent in the role. I wouldn't have wanted her paying any kind of personal attention to me. No, not even to tell me good job, because even "good job" from her would seem to carry some kind of menace.
Visually, the movie made no improvements over its predecessor. In fact, the animation seemed flatter. More plastic. But, then, it has been a while since I watched Monsters, Inc. so there may be some amount of idealization going on in my head as far as that goes. Still, after more than 10 years, you'd expect some amount of improvement, especially after the richness of the animation in Brave.
Many people say that it's unfair to judge Pixar movies by their previous endeavors, but I don't really agree. That's kind of like saying you shouldn't judge a McDonald's cheeseburger by other McDonald's cheeseburgers. Pixar did, after all, establish what a Pixar movie should be like. They are also the ones that have allowed Disney to mess with their recipe, which it's hard to fault Disney for since they own Pixar, now. However, these new Pixar burgers don't taste quite the same, quite as good, as the old ones. So, it may be true that Monsters University is a fine a movie, which it is, but it's not a fine Pixar movie. Of that, it falls short.