Director: Dan Scanlon
Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, John Krasinski, Aubrey Plaza, John Ratzenberger
Pixar seems to be cranking out the sequels to their hits these days. I am relieved to say that Monsters University is no Cars 2. Truth be told, I have never seen Cars 2, but I heard disappointing things. Monsters University is their venture into prequel territory. A young Mike Wazowski is touring Monsters Inc. on a school trip and is beyond excited to one day become a scarer. One of the workers (Krasinski) leaves a lasting impression on him and tosses him his Monsters University baseball hat. Years pass and the book smart Mike (Crystal) has never lost sight of attending Monsters University. His first day arrives and he is ready to go. He meets his new roommate Randall (Buscemi) and he thinks they will be best friends.
Mike comes to his first class, gets a spot in the front row, and has all of his books in hand. Showing up late is Jimmy Sullivan (Goodman), the big blue fuzzy monster. He is a legacy to this school as his family all went to Monsters University and they have a reputation of being some of the best scarers to have come out of the school. The class also provides their first encounter with Dean Hardscrabble (Mirren) who is the head of the Scare program. She is not a force to be reckoned with and she warns them all that whoever does not pass the final exam will be kicked out of the program. She puts up with no funny business and eventually kicks Mike and Sully out of the program for their behavior. Mike is crushed as this was his dream in life, and Sully gets kicked out of his fraternity. Bound and determined to get back into the program, they form a fraternity of other scrappy scarers and compete in The Scare Games. Hardscrabble has no faith in them winning and places bets on their placement in the games. If their frat wins, they will be re-entered into the program. If they lose, Mike is forced to leave Monsters University for good.
One of the many reasons why Pixar films are so appealing is that they cater to audiences of various ages. There is something that adults and children can get out of them. Upon initial thought the idea of college classes and fraternities seems like quite a mature topic for a movie catered towards a younger audience. I suppose that is their approach to appealing to the older audience base. Pixar succeeded with this moviegoer as I know exactly how Mike feels. He thinks that he can become a good scarer by reading all the books and studying all of the various kinds of fears and phobias children have. Unfortunately, Mike is never taken seriously as a scarer due to his small stature and likable presence. Sully, on the other hand, relies on his God-given abilities and talents to get him by in the program. Why should he bother to study? He would rather party it up with his frat brothers. I was Mike in college. I was bound and determined to keep my head in the books and study like crazy. I would get so mad when I saw friends breeze right through their coursework or seem at the top of their game when they were always drinking the night away or skipping class. Don’t worry, I grew out of that phase as the years passed.
There have been Pixar movies in the past (Up and Toy Story 3) that have just connected with my inner soul and touched an emotional side of me that most movies cannot do. I was sobbing like crazy with those films. Unfortunately, I feel like Pixar has set the bar so high for themselves that it can be hard for them to continually reach that level. While Monsters University is a great movie, the story and themes are pretty safe territory. There are no human characters in the movie either which could cause a bit of a disconnect for some audience members. I admit I am holding Pixar at a pretty high standard that may seem unrealistic.
It has been twelve years since Monsters Inc., and it is delightful to have Billy Crystal, John Goodman, and Steve Buscemi back as Mike, Sully, and Randall. They each have such distinct voices, but they all use them so well as these three roles. Helen Mirren is new to the cast, and she is quite perfect in her delivery as the slithery, sharp-as-nails Dean Hardscrabble. John Ratzenberger is a staple to any Pixar film as he has provided a voice in every one of their films. If you are a “Cheers” fan, you will get a kick out of him this time around as his character, the Yeti, works in the mailroom at Monsters Inc. and is a nod to his “Cheers” character Cliff Clavin. The film is cute, funny, and charming and like any Pixar film teaches some good moral lessons along the way. It will appeal to any kid that goes and sees it. They will undoubtedly think about what monsters may be lurking in their bedroom and imagine the cute life they lead. I just wish the creative team would not have played it so safe with the idea and concept behind this prequel.
RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)