Starring:  John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Helen Mirren, Nathan Fillion, Steve Buscemi 

Director:  Dan Scanlon

Studio:  Disney/Pixar

Length:  1 Hr 51 Min

Rated:  G

     They’re back.  Or should I say, they’re here.  Monsters University brings back loveable monsters Sully and Mike and introduces a fresh batch of characters in this prequel to Disney/Pixar’s 2001 animated hit Monsters, Inc.  University is the prequel that tells the story of how the gruesome twosome met and became the best of friends while also becoming the greatest Scarers in Monstropolis history.  While it isn’t as good as the original tale, University is still a nice little tale about the value of friendship gift wrapped in a slick, colourful package that kids will find a laugh riot.  And there’s still enough of the old juice to appeal to the inner child locked away in most adults as well.

         Monstropolis is powered by the screams of terrified children, and the monsters who venture through portals into the human world to frighten those screams out of unsuspecting young tots are known as Scarers.  They’re the rock stars of the monster city, revered like professional athletes, complete with trading cards.  Every monster aspires to be a Scarer, and one-eyed Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) is no different.  An outsider his entire life who never really fit in anywhere, Mike is determined to be a Scarer from a young age.  He devotes every waking moment to studying the art of scaring, earning acceptance to the Scarer’s program at Monster University against the odds.  Even at Monsters’ U though, Mike fails to fit in, looked down on by the other monsters training to be Scarers as too small and not scary looking.  Mike has his work cut out for him, with countless hours of study ahead of him to make up for his lack of natural scariness.  Enter Jimmy “Sully” Sullivan (John Goodman), a hulking brute blessed with fangs, claws and a bone rattling roar whose the latest in a long line of accomplished Scarers.  Sully’s coasted by on his natural talent and his family name his entire life, and thinks that study is a waste of time.  A natural-born Scarer, things just click for Sully, even when they’re the result of Mike’s hard work and ingenuity.  The two quickly find themselves on opposite ends of a fierce rivalry, but through a reckless turn of events by the feuding monsters, they get themselves thrown out of the Scarers program, their only salvation lies in winning the Scare Games, an event between fraternities to determine the best scarers on campus.  Mike and Sully reluctantly find themselves on the same side, teamed up with the least scary outcasts at Monster U.  If through some miracle they win the scare games the whole team of adorable rejects are back in the scare program.  If they lose, Mike and Sully are expelled from Monsters U forever.

     Pixar has earned itself a reputation for gathering all-star voice casts, and Monsters University is no exception.  Memorable standouts include the draconic Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), a legendary Scarer who puts chills into other Monsters, and Johnny (Nathan Fillion) the charismatic head of Roar Omega Roar, the most popular fraternity on campus and the defending Scare Games champs.  Mike and Sully’s band of misfits are also perfectly cast, with sitcom veterans Sean Hayes and Dave Foley voicing the two-headed, dancing monster  Terry/Terri, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Charlie Day voicing Art, the New Age Philosophy major who resembles a furry purple slinky.  Alfred Molina gives life to Professor Knight, a hard-nosed scare instructor, Steve Buscemi returns to voice the slithering chameleon Randy Boggs (and we discover the root of the rivalry between the devious Randy and Sully in Monsters, Inc.) and John Ratzenberger makes his traditional Pixar cameo.  All in all, Pixar continues to assemble the best voice casts of any of the major animators.

     But the truth is Monsters University just isn’t as good as Monsters, Inc. was.  It lacks the same energy, the same freshness that the original boasted.  It doesn’t stretch the imaginative boundaries the way it’s predecessor did, the way Pixar has come to be known for.  I’ve been a huge fan of Pixar’s since they exploded onto the scene with 1995’s Toy Story, but this seems to be a recurring theme as of late.  While 2011’s Cars 2 was a box office success, it didn’t enjoy the same level of financial success as previous Pixar efforts (or the same level of critical praise; more than one critic referred to it as Pixar’s first “dud”).  Last summer’s Brave was pretty successful at the box office as well, especially when it found itself competing with the likes of The Avengers, The DarK Knight Rises and the Amazing Spiderman, but it lacked the epic scope Pixar had mastered in the past.  Even Monsters University’s preceding mini-feature, The Blue Umbrella, seems forced, a motion to go through because people expect it.  While I enjoyed all three movies, it just seems that Pixar has lost some of its original charm.  The fact that two of three aforementioned titles are sequels can’t be a coincidence, and while I would love to see a sequel to The Incredibles, it may be time for Pixar to return to mining new material instead of trying to catch lightning in the same bottle over and over again.  Alas, with a Finding Nemo sequel (Finding Dory) scheduled for the summer of 2015 , Pixar seems intent on seeing just how many more dollars they can squeeze out of established properties.  Although having said that, I have high hopes for next May’s Pixar release, tentatively titled The Good Dinosaur.

     But while Monsters University  seems destined to live in the shadow of its original namesake, it’s still a pretty decent flick in its own right.  You could do worse this summer season, and if you can, take it in with a bunch of kids (trust me, they’ll find the slapstick hilarious).  And with a little luck, there should be enough magic in University to tease a few laughs out of your own inner child.  you know, the one who still believes there’s a monster hiding in your closet.

Shayne Kempton



One thought on “MONSTERS SQUARED

  1. smithers says:

    Great article Shayne 😀 I’d really like to see an Incredibles 2 as well!

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