out of Five
Running time: 110
Entertaining, beautifully animated Pixar prequel with superb voice performances, a constant stream of amusing gags and an oddly realistic central message, though the supporting characters are underdeveloped and it lacks the magic touch that made the original film so special.
What's it all about?
Directed by Dan Scanlon, Monsters University is a prequel to Pixar's 2001 hit Monsters Inc. As a young, green, one-eyed blob, Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) visits Monsters Inc on a school trip and is told that if he wants to follow his dream of becoming a professional scarer, he should study hard and attend Monsters University. When he arrives on campus he meets classmate James ‘Sulley’ Sullivan (John Goodman), who figures he doesn't need to study and can coast through university on his famous scarer father's legacy.
However, when the pair fall foul of scary Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), they are both threatened with expulsion unless they can work together and win the annual team-based Scare Games. Unfortunately, the only team left with open slots is the Oozma Kappa fraternity, a house comprised entirely of nerdy no-hopers: chubby, middle-aged avuncular Don (Joel Murray), double-headed, argumentative Terry/Terri (Sean Hayes/Dave Foley), timid blob-with-five-eyes Squishy (Peter Sohn) and furry arch-shaped monster Art (Charlie Day).
Crystal and Goodman are both excellent as Mike and Sulley and their sparky interaction is just as strong here as it was twelve years ago, with both characters also getting scenes that are slightly more emotional this time round. However, next to the two familiar central characters, the supporting cast feel a little underdeveloped (particularly Mirren's Dean Hardscrabble), which feels like something of a wasted opportunity.
The film is beautifully animated throughout, with (literally) eye-poppingly bright colours and a wealth of background detail and character design work that should ensure repeated viewings on DVD. Similarly, the script provides a constant stream of amusing gags (though it never quite hits the heights of belly laughs) and there's a curiously downbeat but nonetheless refreshingly realistic central message about accepting your limitations (this works because we know from the outset that Mike never becomes a scarer, so we brace ourselves for the moment that he lets go of his dream).
Aside from the underdeveloped supporting cast and a slightly confused message about cheating, the film is also let down by a disappointing climax that lacks both the dramatic and emotional weight of the previous film. Similarly, the lack of big laughs is a problem and the film in general is somehow missing what might be termed ‘the Pixar magic’, perhaps because, as this is a prequel, we know that everything works out okay in the end, so nothing is really at stake and there are no delightful surprises.
Some niggling issues aside, Monsters University is still an enjoyable and beautifully animated prequel that should prove a hit with both adults and children, though it never hits the dizzy heights of its predecessor. Screens with Pixar short The Blue Umbrella.