The third Pixar property to be revisited, and the first prequel from the animation studio, Monsters University takes place an unspecified number of years before Monsters Inc, introducing us to Mike and Sulley (Billy Crystal and John Goodman returning to the roles) when they first meet in college. Steve Buscemi also reprises his role as Randall. In addition to the returning players, the rest of the cast is a laundry list of voice talent, notably of the television variety: Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Frank Oz, Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Nathan Fillion, Aubrey Plaza, Tyler Labine, John Krasinski, Bonnie Hunt, Bobby Moynihan, Beth Behrs, and the obligatory John Ratzenberger.
Before I get into the main film, I want to mention The Blue Umbrella. As is tradition with Pixar films, this one is preceded by voiceless short. The first thing I noticed about the latest entry was the graphics. Honestly, at first I thought we were being treated to some sort of commercial before the movie started – it is that true to life. Pixar’s animation gets more and more impressive every time and it seems like only a matter of time before they start providing CGI effects for blockbusters. Not only does it look perfectly real, but it’s gorgeous too. The story itself is cute, if not terribly original (it reminds me of last year’s award-winning Paperman). It’s not the cutest or most interesting piece they’ve done, but boy does it look good, especially in 3D.
Ok, back to Monsters University. After a quick flashback to a very young Mike Wazowski where we learn about his inspiration for become a scarer, we’re dropped off on the steps of Monsters University with a teenage Mike. From there, it’s a somewhat typical rowdy college flick, just with monsters and a G rating. Mike and Sulley meet, have their differences, but end up on the path that puts them together as two inseparable friends, and the best team of scarers around. And therein lies this movie’s biggest flaw.
It’s a great movie, and even if it’s not as groundbreaking as some of Pixar’s other works, it’s got a lot going for it. What it doesn’t have going for it is the element of surprise. We know Mike and Sulley and who they become. There’s a little mystery to how they made it there, but there’s no doubt that they do. It’s hard for any prequel to feel fresh when, in essence, you know how the story is going to end.
There’s a lot of fun to be had along the way though, and the whole thing plays a bit like a kid-friendly Revenge of the Nerds. Anyone who has attended college will find a lot of humor here, and the multi-age level enjoyment that was lacking in Brave is back, if not at full strength. The animation is brilliant and manages to look great while still keeping the same feel as the original, which is now nearly twelve years behind the times. The 3D also shines as a joyful beacon amidst a murky sea of pointless post-conversions. Though the story has some predictability to it, there are some twists and surprises, and a whole lot of love for Monsters Inc. There is a scene right near the end, the point where Mike and Sulley become the team we know them as, that is a ton of fun and almost makes up for every other little nitpicky issue the rest of the film might have.
It’s been heralded that Pixar has lost its touch. After its first rotten scoring film in Cars 2, followed by the surprisingly mediocre Brave, some were ready to declare the gold-standard-setting studio washed up. Far from it. While it doesn’t achieve the emotional magic of Up, the fresh originality of Ratatouille, or the excitement and humor of The Incredibles, this is another solid entry in Pixar’s library. It’s funny, friendly, and fully justifies another visit to the world of monsters. I really wanted it to be a masterpiece to completely silence the naysayers. It’s not quite there, but is certainly enough to prove Pixar still knows what they’re doing.
Mrs. Hamster says:
“It was a good movie but not as good as the first one. It was hard to fully get into the story when you already know what’s going to happen and that children are not toxic.”
My Rating: Four out of Five Hats
Monsters University scares its way into 3,800 theaters, June 21