Mike and Sulley are back as we witness their college years in Monsters University. Does Pixar scare some life back to these classic character or does it fail to deliver? Jeffrey Harris checks in with his official review.
Directed By: Dan Scanlon Written By: Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird, and Dan Scanlon Runtime: 107 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated G
Michael “Mike” Wazowski - Billy Crystal James P. “Sulley” Sullivan - John Goodman Randall Boggs - Steve Buscemi Dean Hardscrabble - Helen Mirren Professor Knight - Alfred Molina Johnny Worthington - Nathan Fillion Don Carlton - Joel Murray Art - Charlie Day Terri Perry - Sean Hayes Terry Perry - Dave Foley Scott “Squishy” Squibbles - Peter Sohn Frank McCray - John Krasinski
Pixar takes us back to the world of Monsters, Inc. with the new prequel Monsters University. This is a new story set before the events of the 2001 movie featuring the story of Mike and Sulley in their college years before they met and became the best of friends. Generally, I’m not a fan of prequels. For the most part, I’d rather see stories progress and move forward than look back. How things came to be do not nearly interest me so much as what’s taking place in the present. I was excited when I first heard that Pixar was making a new Monsters movie, though I was also initially disappointed when I realized it would be a prequel. But all that aside, this is still a fantastic movie up to Pixar’s usual standards, and I’d say well above their last two releases which were a bit underwhelming in Cars 2 and Brave. Watching Monsters University felt like meeting old friends again.
While Monsters, Inc. was more centered on Sulley (Goodman), his story, and journey; Mike Wazowski (Crystal) gets to take center stage this time which was an excellent choice. The story begins in Mike’s childhood youth on a field trip to Monsters, Inc. After sneaking into a scare mission by elite scarer, Frank McCray (Krasinski), Mike makes it his lifelong goal to become the greatest scarer ever. Of course, the best way to do that is by going to be best scare school in the Monster world, Monsters U. Mike gets in and he’s eager to dive in head first. But he finds a competitive rival in the entitled golden boy James P. “Sulley” Sullivan, the ideal looking scarer from a family of esteemed scarers. Mike being rather tiny and goofy looking, doesn’t have the natural look of a scarer, but Mike is undeterred. Unfortunately, the rivalry between the book smart Mike and the jock-ish Sulley gets out of hand during their semester scare exam, destroying the record holding scream can of Dean Hardscrabble (Mirren). The harsh and cold Hardscrabble promptly kicks them both out of the scare school. Mike then sees a way back in by entering the annual university “Scare Games,” and makes a deal with games founder Hardscrabble that the winning team will be allowed back in the Scare School. Seeing an opening as well, Sulley joins Mike’s team of misfit Monsters of Oozma Kappa: Don (Murray), Art (Day), Squishy (Sohn), and the conjoined monster twins Terry (Foley) and Terri (Hayes). They are disorganized and the laughing stock of the school, and not even really friends but they are the underdogs of this delightful story.
What works the best about the story is how expectations are constantly inverted. Randall Boggs (Buscemi), the villain of Monsters, Inc., when we meet him is actually quite friendly and docile. So we get to see the seeds planted for the reptile he later becomes. Sulley when we first meet him is pretty much an unrepentant jerk. Of course, it doesn’t stay that way, but Sulley’s transition into an intolerable jock into a friend is a great journey to witness. I think the only caveat though is through the story that with all the odds stacked against Mike and being told he isn’t scary, you do kind of want to see Mike become a top scarer. However, this is not Mike’s destiny as we see in the next movie.
In terms of music, I was a bit disappointed Randy Newman's famous song from the first film, "I Wouldn't Have Nothing If I Didn't Have You," didn't have some kind of reprise. Newman is back as composer, though one cool thing he did imbue the score with was this neat, percussion band type of University fight song as a theme. Considering the subject matter, this worked really well.
What the movie has over Monsters, Inc. is a stronger, colorful, opened up cast of supporting Monsters. Mike and Sulley’s comrades of Oozma Kappa are an awesome, diverse cast of oddballs, my personal favorite being Charlie Day as the Muppet-like Art. Nathan Fillion has a fun part as Johnny Worthington, the head of the rival fraternity in the scare games.
Pixar’s animation techniques and technical wizardry is on display like never before here. This is a world where no two characters or monsters lookalike. The monster designs are all fantastic, unique, and diverse. The story also gives the opportunity to open the Monster world up even further, and it’s really one of the most fun and appealing worlds that Pixar has created.
The 411: Monsters University is a great college underdog comedy story. It was great to see Mike and Sulley again, and the story is full of nice surprises and fun, engaging, new characters. Monsters University is definitely one to see in the theaters and is great for the whole family. And remember to stay after the credits.