“Monsters University” is Pixar’s 14th animated feature. It’s also their first prequel, to a film that many have near the bottom of their list of all-time favorite Pixar films. 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.” grossed $255 million but lost the first-ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature to DreamWorks’ “Shrek”.
Recently I watched “Monsters Inc.” again, and enjoyed it a lot more than the first time I’d seen it. The small, green, one-eyed Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and the large, blue and pink-dotted James P. “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman) are a great comedy team, and the film’s emotional core, revolving around little Boo, works quite well. That same humor and emotion is present in “Monsters University”.
This story begins with elementary school Mike on a field trip with his class to Monsters Inc., the factory where the magic doors are built and the screams are collected from little human boys and girls. It’s here where Mike gets the inspiration to someday become a scarer. However, no one else believes that he’s scary enough. This doesn’t lower Mike’s confidence one bit. He works very hard in school over the next several years and gets accepted into the scaring program at Monsters University.
Randy “Randall” Boggs (arch-enemy in the first film and once again voiced by Steve Buscemi) is Mike’s roommate at the start of college. It’s during their first class together that Mike and Sulley first meet. Mike is the brainiac while Sulley is the slacker jock, who comes from a family of successful scarers. Initially, they don’t like each other. But soon Mike and Sulley come to need each other in order to stay in the scaring program. The pair join the “Oozma Kappa” fraternity so they can take part in the school’s annual Scare Games, headed by Dean Hardscrabble (voiced by Helen Mirren). Team “OK” team needs to win the Games, but the problem is the rest of the fraternity members are oddball monsters who aren’t very scary either.
“Monsters University” is consistently enjoyable. The script features some clever dialogue, especially between and among all the students. It also suffers from the same problem as another recent film – “The Internship”: Once the competition element begins the movie starts to drag a bit. Fortunately, the writing here is much better and the characters are so much more likeable that the predictability of this storyline doesn’t ruin the movie. After all, this is a relationship film. It’s when the focus moves to Mike and Sulley, and the two being to work together, that “Monsters University” truly shines.
Pixar, once again, delivers a story with surprises and memorable moments. And, unlike other prequels that often try to make you forget about the future (and the previous film), “Monsters University” uses “Monsters, Inc.” as a goal – something to look forward to. There are plenty of references to the earlier movie that fans will appreciate. And the final 10-15 minutes are Pixar at its finest, drawing emotion from these animated characters as, frankly, they continue to do better than any other studio.
The very talented supporting voice cast includes Alfred Molina, John Krasinski, and Bonnie Hunt (in her sixth Pixar film). And the animation itself (as always) is superb. What’s equally as impressive here is the attention to detail, particularly in scenes around the campus and in Mike’s dorm room. The filmmakers went all out to capture the authenticity of college life, with comic touches everywhere.
I won’t be surprised if some Pixar fans aren’t thrilled with “Monsters University”. It doesn’t have the impact of “Toy Story 3” or “Up”. Outside of being the studio’s first prequel there isn’t anything groundbreaking or unique about it. But that’s the problem when it comes to comparing Pixar films – you’re always comparing with the best. Not all Pixar films can be a masterpiece or Best Picture contender. On its own, “MU” is a success because of a smart script, simple, but relatable humor, and its honesty – all qualities missing from most other recent animated films.
“Monsters University” is rated G. It’s appropriate for kids 8 and up. The preceding short shown before the film in theaters over the summer, “The Blue Umbrella”, continues Pixar’s current string of disappointing original animated shorts. The look is interesting, but the story is lifeless. However, “The Blue Umbrella” will likely be a contender for an Oscar nomination, as will “MU”.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Monsters University” gets a B+.