Monsters University (2013) / Animation-Comedy
MPAA Rated: G, suitable for all audiences, though there are some mildly scary images for the very impressionable
Running Time: 110 min.
Cast (voices): Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi, Joel Murray, Peter Sohn, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Charlie Day, Alfred Molina, Nathan Fillion, Aubrey Plaza, Julia Sweeney, Bonnie Hunt, John Krasinski, Bill Hader, John Ratzenberger, Frank Oz
Director: Don Scanlon
Screenplay: Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, Don Scanlon
Review published June 25, 2013
A step down from the delightfulness of Monsters Inc., but still a delight nonetheless, Monsters University may lack for the more affecting aspects of its predecessor, but taken as a fun, cute, comic film for all ages, it will still fit the bill for those who aren't looking for a home run from Pixar every time out.
Though it comes out over a decade after Monsters Inc., this is a prequel, mostly following the exploits of a younger Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal, Cars), the one-eyed, green, horned orb with arms and legs who most people would find a good deal less frightening than your typical monster in the bedroom, which isn't much of an asset in this world that is largely powered on the screams of young children. Mike's singular wish as a late teenager is to be the 'best scarer there is', which means he's going to go to Monsters University to learn the ropes of being a great monster and get his degree as a scare-meister.
It is there that Mike meets James P. "Sulley" Sullivan (Goodman, Flight), an unmotivated legacy scarer with a fantastic roar who is the son of one of the greatest scarers ever known. Graduating M.U. will not be easy, as Dean Hardscrabble (Mirren, Hitchcock) is quick to point out that she's ready to kick out anyone who doesn't pass snuff, and Mike and Sulley don't. However, they get a second chance to get back in the Dean's good graces when they test their mettle in the annual "Scare Games", whereby the various monster fraternities and sororities compete in a grueling competition to earn their keep in the school.
Perhaps some viewers intimately familiar with Monsters Inc. will find a prequel to be a bit anticlimactic, as we know where the story will likely end up leading later down the road for these characters. Most kids, however, aren't likely to care, as the characters are still cute and loveable, and the tone quite comical throughout. There are a couple of aspects that makes Monsters University not only a lesser film in comparison to Monsters Inc., but also not an instant classic Pixar film. One is the aforementioned lack of emotional investment in the characters that came out in the 2001 film. The second aspect is that, while the characters are comical and the tone always pleasant, there aren't a great deal of genuinely funny moments in the script by director Dan Scanlon (Tracy), along with Robert L. Baird and Daniel Gerson.
The film still looks great from an animation standpoint, as we've come to expect from the groundbreaking animation studio. The music is quite good as well, so all's well in terms of production values. The table is set, but the script just doesn't aim for much more than to entertain and bide time. The plot itself is a mixed bag. Kids are likely too young to understand the various references to college life, especially on the fraternity system and their rivalries. Those old enough to get these things will likely have seen quite a few films that follow the basic underdog frat formula, such as Animal House, Old School, and the one this release mostly resembles, though far less raunchy, Revenge of the Nerds.
Although we expect all A's from Pixar, they've been on shakier ground for the last couple of films, so if they deliver a B+ grade on a sequel (or, in this case, a prequel), the GPA takes a hit, but they still are on track to graduate with honors.
©2013 Vince Leo