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It's funny to see people talking now about Pixar as if they've toppled in some way over the last few years. In the lead-up to "Cars 2," they seemed invincible, the golden hit-making machine that somehow managed to pull off quality every time while also making choices that kept racking up ginormous international box-office.
"Cars 2" seemed to shake some people's faith, though, and the general reaction to this summer's "Brave" seemed to be indifference among most people I spoke to. For the first time, the big brains at Pixar seemed human-scale, and there's been a subtle but genuine shift in the tenor of how people write about them. Gone is the reverence, and maybe that is, in the end, better for everyone.
After all, being on a pedestal is hard for anyone. It almost guarantees a fall at some point. The crushing weight of expectation can get into an artist's head, even a team as confident as the storytellers at Pixar, and the yips almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy after a while. Because it is inevitable everyone eventually screws up, you end up waiting for that moment.
Let's be honest, though… if "Cars 2" and "Brave" are the "worst" things you release as a company, your batting average is still ridiculously high. And while I'm not sure sequels are the answers to the company's sense of creative stall right now, the full-length trailer for "Monsters University" promises a very silly, very funny film. One of the main strengths of Pixar's work has been the fast and furious sense of humor in many of their movies, and if this film delivers on that promise, that should be enough to entertain most audiences.
What I'm curious about now is whether or not they deliver more with the film. The creators referred to "Revenge Of The Nerds" as one of the touchstones for their film, but it looks like the real thematic drive of the film has to do with finding your place in the world. Obviously these family-oriented films don't have to deal with larger films to be good. There's plenty of room for simple entertainment, especially dealing with younger audiences, but when the films deal with something larger, something that helps them at an age they're trying to figure out the way things work, that's a bonus, and I like the idea that this is about adjusting your expectations as you start to settle into your identity.
And did I mention it looks hilarious? Because it does.
"Monsters University" opens in theaters everywhere , 2013.