Director: Dan Scanlon Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman & Steve Buscemi Synopsis: “A look at the relationship between Mike and Sulley during their days at Monsters University — when they weren’t necessarily the best of friends.” Run time: 104 minutes.
“Mr Wazzowksky, what you lack simply cannot be taught. You’re just not scary.”
Monsters University is the first prequel in the Pixar canon, detailing the early relationship between Mike and Sulley and their time together at the titular Monsters University. Taking us back to an already established universe can be a tricky thing to overcome, especially when the initial visit was so memorable and adored by so many. It’s a good thing then that while Monsters U is probably not as lasting as Monsters Inc, it is still a highly enjoyable movie that lends itself well to the original and would be able to stand on it’s own two feet if Monsters Inc never existed.
Monsters U starts off with a young Mike Wazzowksky on a field trip with his school to the Monsters Inc. facility, utterly friendless but bubbling with enthusiasm and self belief, he’s the cutest one-eyed monster you will ever see. It is here that Mike decides what he will dedicate the rest of his life to, being a scarer. We then fast forward to his first day at college, signing up for classes & meeting his new roommate.
College life here is a literal animal house of jocks, fraternities, initiations and embarrassments, something that foreign audiences can only be used to seeing from all those American college comedies over the years. I can’t reveal too much of the story, as I feel it would ruin some of the surprises Pixar have beautifully put together. We meet many new characters, but gladly see the return of some old faces too, chief among them is Mike’s future best friend Sulley. Sulley lives off of his family name & his natural gift for being able to scare, whilst Mike slaves away dedicating himself to book work and making himself a better scarer. Safe to say, when they first meet, they don’t get along so well.
The voice work is, as ever, exceptional and really helps bring the numerous characters to life in this movie. Already established characters such as Mike, Sulley and Randy are all familiar voices, so it’s up to the new recruits to bring something memorable to the table. Helen Mirren perhaps has the biggest role as Dean Hardscrabble, choosing a cold menace over furious anger as the head of the college. While Nathan Fillion does incredibly well as Johnny Worthington, the big guy on campus who is head of top fraternity Roar Omega Roar. I didn’t even realise until the end credits rolled that Doctor Octopus himself, Alfred Molina had voiced one of the teachers, Professor Knight. Just looking at the cast list on the IMDb, it is a who’s who of talented and distinguished character actors all doing some first-rate voice work. The best thing about all these characters is how human they feel, obviously we are all aware we’re watching an animated movie about monsters whose goal it is to scare sleeping children, but there is a resonance and personal touch to all of these characters which is what makes the movie worth watching.
Throughout the movie, the animation is positively flawless. Pixar have created a charming landscape, having apparently based the college campus on that of the real life University Of California. The college bubbles with activity and features such detail it’s hard to explain it without you actually seeing it. The art of Monsters University book will surely be a welcome addition to any movie buff.
The script helps the story move along nicely and provides us with some nice gags and one liners along the way, though some of the best moments in the film come from clever visual gags more so than scripted ones. A particular delight comes roughly halfway through the movie, when Art (voiced by Charlie Day) has a problem touching things he knows he shouldn’t.
With several memorable scenes throughout the movie, the end could feel somewhat of anti climax for some. Monsters U however, is a character piece, and to me, the end was extremely fitting, and features a beautifully timed cameo that foreshadows an event from the first film brilliantly.
In summary: Beautifully animated with exceptional voice work and a much deeper film than you may initially think. Monsters University works as a stand alone film but also helps enhance the original movie, and proves that Pixar have far from lost their touch.
P.S, the short film Blue Umbrella that plays before the main feature is really quite wonderful and worth getting into the cinema early for.