Let’s start by getting this out of the way immediately. Monsters University is not going to have you silently blubbering away/wiping away manly tears like the brilliant Toy Story 3, the Pixar Animation/Walt Disney Pictures film you’d have to be comatose not to love.
Nor is it a Cars 2 fiasco that makes you question if Pixar has lost its magic touch that made a classic out of everything boasting its name.
What Monsters University is, however, is a very entertaining film that’s funny, good-natured and better than 95% of its non-Pixar animated competition.
Monsters is only the third Pixar property to have a follow-up even, if this is a prequel instead of a sequel. Monsters, Inc. was one of the early gems in the Pixar stable with an inspired tale of professional monsters scaring children in effort to power their city.
Since that film had a closed-book happy ending, a sequel wouldn’t quite work so it’s off to the way back machine to explore how main characters Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman, The Hangover Part III) became best friends in college.
Ever since he was little, Mike wanted to be a Scarer — one of the legendary monsters who travels to children’s bedrooms to collect their screams of terror. And now with his arrival at Monsters University, Mike is ready to begin the path to make his dream a reality. Thing is, Mike isn’t the least bit frightening … at all. That’s not a problem for Sulley, the latest in a long line of proud Scarers, who is just fine coasting on his family’s legacy without putting in the work to create his own.
Sulley’s overconfidence and lackadaisical demeanor instantly put him at odds with Mike. Sulley’s enjoying the good life — accolades from Professor Knight (Alfred Molina) and recruited to join the prestigious Roar Omega Roar fraternity by top dog Johnny (Nathan Fillion) — while Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) sneers at Mike’s chances of becoming a scarer.
A campus mishap leaves Mike and Sulley on the brink of expulsion unless they join the lowly Oozma Kappa fraternity, comprised of nerdy misfits, and win a competition to remain in the scarer program.
Monsters Inc. screenwriters Robert L. Baird and Daniel Gerson are joined by Dan Scanlon (Cars), and their script isn’t anything groundbreaking. It’s essentially Revenge of the Nerds recast with monsters and that that sense of familiarity with the nerdy underdogs vs. the jocks storyline prevents Monsters University from being as fresh and creative as its predecessor.
Still there are far worse films to be derivative of and it’s immensely satisfying watching rivals Mike and Sulley rally together and make OK a competitor in the games. Mike and Sulley have great chemistry, even when they’re bickering, and of the numerous Pixar characters, they’re definitely two worth revisiting.
Along the way, we learn why Randy (Steve Buscemi) can’t stand Sulley and be on the lookout for appearances from other Monsters, Inc. favorites too.
The new additions to the cast are also a lot of fun and it’s too bad the film ties so neatly into Monsters, Inc. as the further adventures of campus life warrants at least another semester or at least a spin-off.
It’s not the most original Pixar outing, but catching the early days of Mike and Sulley’s partnership is a lot of fun and Monsters University definitely earns a passing grade as another quality, entertaining Pixar production.
Rating: 8 out of 10