Title: Monsters University
Directed by: Dan Scanlon
Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Nathan Fillion, Charlie Day, Aubrey Plaza, Alfred Molina, Tyler Labine, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Peter Sohn
There are those who believe that Pixar is in a state of decline, mainly due to their ability to dip their hand into the pool of their earlier films and make a couple of sequels. Between that and the mixed response for their previous summer film “Brave,” a lot of movie-goers have waned on their confidence that Pixar is still capable of being a collection of A-grade storytellers whose combined talent with CG animation put them on the map in the first place. “Monsters University” may not be the loud reemergence of Pixar film majesty that fans have been waiting for, but it’s cute story and mature themes softly do mark the second wave of their animation reign.
“Monsters Inc.” could arguably be described more or less Sully’s story, where the prequel “Monsters University” follows the younger days of the overly confident Mike (Billy Crystal). All his life, Mike has worked his butt off in school to become a Scarer for Monsters Inc. Now he’s on the final phase of his schooling as he’s accepted into the prestigious Monsters University, but it’s not all chocolate and roses once he steps onto campus. He’s thrown into a fierce rivalry between the cocky Sully (John Goodman) and trying to prove that he has what it takes to be a Scarer in front of Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) who threatens to throw him out of the program if he doesn’t have what it takes. Needless to say it’s going to be a tough first year for Mike in college.
Let’s touch upon the story first, which in some ways is a little more mature in it’s themes (as previously mentioned) than some of the Pixar movies we’ve seen in the past. The biggest wallop in the film is thrown on Mike when a good chunk of his university deems him as entirely unworthy to become a Scarer. It deals with the reality that in some cases, life may not always work out in the way you want it to. You may be disappointed along the way and not achieve all you’ve worked hard at, but that’s okay because normally there’s a better path out there for you to go down. Towards the end of the movie the message does seem relatively dark, and something that younger audiences won’t fully understand, but if you’ve seen “Monsters Inc” then you know what happens to our two main characters. Then there’s the obvious troupes of the underdog fraternity trying to show everybody else in the university that they have what it takes not only to be a part of the cool crowd but they’re outstanding in their own unique ways. “Monsters University” clearly takes notes from other popular college movies, the most notable being “Revenge of the Nerds.” They don’t rip off any of the college genre films so much as they do take bits and pieces of the more popular ones and integrate it into “Monsters University.” It very much follows the typical Pixar formula where we deal with a family, whether that be biological or surrogate, which the audience sees with Oozma Kappa, the loser fraternity that Mike and Sully are thrown into. For the most part the story does exactly what it’s supposed to do; instill a sense of hope and belonging for all no matter whether they’re a part of the cool crowd or loser crowd. That life may not work out the way you want it to, but you’ll still find a happy ending of sorts no matter what. It’s simple but effective.
This movie is incredibly radiant, mainly having to do with the colorful array of monsters. While the overall designs of the monsters has been stretched out some, the layout of their universe is still rather contained, rather simple. It’s a little surprising considering that this is an animation company that continually pushes themselves on the detail and styles of their films. Then again the Monsters Inc universe automatically has a set style, texture to the environment that you can’t ignore while making the prequel. Then there’s director Dan Scanlon, a newcomer who understands the Monsters universe and has us follow these colorful characters through his own subtle visual style. Scanlon gets the job done, giving us a clear look at the ever-growing world through Mike’s eyes and the hardships that he has to face in order to get what he wants. And we can’t talk about “Monsters University” without mentioning the talented voice cast. Billy Crystal and John Goodman return, voicing younger version of Mike and Sully during the beginning stages of their friendship which doesn’t really start out too good. These two are powerful actors who slip back into the roles with ease, along with Steve Buscemi as a timid version of the chameleon Russell. Everybody else in the voice cast is bursting with energy, blending in with their characters and at times their voices are almost unrecognizable. It’s always nice to watch a movie, sit back and not have the thought of “Hey, that’s this actor” screaming in your head.
For Pixar’s first prequel, “Monsters University” does a good job retaining the kind of warmth, comedy and strong themes that makes their movies so popular in the first place. It may not be incredibly moving like some of their previous works, but it still gets the job done when it comes to entertaining audiences across the world.