One of the most striking details in Monsters University is a student-made flyer that gets passed around throughout the story. The Pixar animators exquisitely re-create the look of Xeroxed text and Scotch tape—the creases in the paper seem real enough to touch. Like Jeff Koons with his stainless steel replicas of balloon animals, the Pixar team devote discernible effort (and, presumably, money) to the facsimile of a banal, disposable object. The artistic process commands your attention, rather than the object itself. How strange, to think about the time and imagination that went into animating something that would take just minutes to create in real life.
This sort of thing is essential to Pixar’s broad appeal. The hyperrealist touches give an earthbound quality to the fantasy, while the sophisticated computer animation makes those details seem fantastic. Michael Castelle once wrote at CINE-FILE that Monsters, Inc. was the most self-reflexive Pixar film because the “scare factory” represented a fusion of technology and creative effort, just like the studio’s movies. Monsters University expands on that metaphor by presenting the College of Scaring as a combination of an aeronautics institute and a professional-baseball club. Who wouldn’t want to work in that environment?