Considering the fact that Monsters, Inc. is my favourite ever Pixar movie, I was equal parts ecstatic and worried when I heard that they were making a second film all about Mike and Sullivan, the two main monsters in that film. Then I heard it was going to be a prequel, which made me slightly more worried.
I’m happy to say that my worries were unfounded. Monsters University is a worthy second feature outing for the heroes of Monsters, Inc. and it’s the best Pixar movie in years, in my opinion (bear in mind, that I’m the guy who didn’t really love Wall-E but still tries to convince everyone of just how great A Bug’s Life is).
Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) is a small, green, one-eyed monster who knows just what he wants to do with his life from an early age. He wants to go to Monsters University and become a top scarer. Sullivan AKA Sulley (John Goodman) IS a top scarer, he’s just born into the role, but he won’t be able to show it if he doesn’t pass a major test. The two monsters don’t start off as friends. They are, in fact, at polar opposites, but those who have seen Monsters, Inc. know that something must change that. That something comes in the shape of a big challenge, a competition that puts Mike and Sulley on the same team alongside a bunch of no-hopers they desperately need to whip into shape. Because if they don’t win the competition then they’re out of the university.
It’s a Pixar movie so you can expect the animation and design work to be gorgeous, but let me assure you that . . . . . . the animation and design work is GORGEOUS. Monsters, Inc. remains a visual treat, and this prequel takes the familiar elements from that movie and just gives them all a bit of a polish to get them completely up to the current high standard. The monsters on display are all colourful and created with a sense of imagination over any kind of practicality, making them a lot more kid-friendly and fun to watch.
The script, co-written by Dan Scanlon (who also directs), Daniel Gerson and Robert L. Baird, is full of numerous little gags, plenty of wordplay, some nice call-backs and even a number of references to Animal House that adults will enjoy. It may not be their very best work, but it’s pretty fine indeed. In fact, even though the movie hits all of the beats that you’d expect (both from an animated family movie AND a prequel standpoint), it does so in a pleasingly unexpected way. For the kids, anyway. Adults will find few surprises here, but should still enjoy themselves and perhaps even appreciate a third act sequence that temporarily adds some more of the real world.
Billy Crystal and John Goodman are both in top form once again as Mike and Sulley, Steve Buscemi returns as the sneaky, chameleonic Randall, Helen Mirren plays the terrifying Dean Hardscrabble and the rest of the voice cast includes a brilliant mix of recognisable Pixar “old hands” (such as Dave Foley and, briefly, John Ratzenberger) and other people who just fit right into their roles – Sean Hayes, Tyler Labine, Charlie Day, Alfred Molina, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Nathan Fillion, Aubrey Plaza, Bill Hader and more.
Monsters University has immediately thrown itself into consideration as one of the top Pixar movies, as far as I’m concerned. It may not be quite as deep as some of their films more beloved by others, but it has plenty of good stuff for the kids to think about while also making sure that it entertains from start to finish. It’s classic Pixar.
DIRECTOR: DAN SCANLON
WRITER: DAN SCANLON, ROBERT L. BAIRD, DANIEL GERSON
STARS: BILLY CRYSTAL, JOHN GOODMAN, STEVE BUSCEMI, HELEN MIRREN, SEAN HAYES, DAVE FOLEY, TYLER LABINE, CHARLIE DAY, ALFRED MOLINA, PETER SOHN, JOEL MURRAY, NATHAN FILLION, AUBREY PLAZA, BILL HADER, JOHN RATZENBERGER
RUNTIME: 105 MINS APPROX