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.
Stars: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Dave Foley, Sean P. Hayes, Joel Murray, Peter Sohn, Charlie Day, Nathan Fillion, Bobby Moynihan, Julia Sweeney, Aubrey Plaza, Tyler Labine, John Krasinski, Bonnie Hunt, Beth Behrs, John Ratzenberger
Director: Dan Scanlon
Running Length: 100 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (8.5/10)
Review: Back in 2001 when Monsters Inc. was released Disney/Pixar was riding high off of the boffo success of Toy Story 2 and looking for another megahit. While Monsters Inc. lined the pockets of all involved, for me it was one of the lesser Pixar films (though I’d still rank it above Cars, Cars 2, A Bugs Life, and Ratatouille) and its not one I’ve revisited much in the following twelve years.
In the last decade Disney/Pixar has matured as a production company, creating and developing moving movies with a purpose and a richly beating heart that it proudly wears on its sleeve. With films like Up, Wall*E, and Toy Story 3 the animators took just as much pride in tugging at our heartstrings as they did in tickling our funny bone. 2012 saw the release of Brave and though it went on to win the Oscar (somewhat surprisingly) for Best Animated Feature some naysayers felt that film was not so much a step back in progress but a standing of ground with forward motion.
It’s a year later and the next Disney/Pixar film is upon us and it wasn’t a film I was particularly chomping at the bit to see. In the realm of sequels to their films I would have preferred a sequel to The Incredibles or Finding Nemo (I’ll get my wish in 2015 when Finding Dory arrives) over another visit with the scare makers who work at Monsters Inc. I just didn’t think it was a film that was needed now.
Well it turns out I was wrong because instead of an outright sequel the filmmakers have made a prequel, following Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) in their college years as they experience a monster of a college life at Monsters University. The uptight, studious Mike clashes with the laid-back slacker Sulley and it’s only when their future in school is threatened that the two bond together to show what they’re really made of. Working with a fraternity of misfit outcasts, can Mike and Sulley get back into the Scare Program at school by winning the annual Scare Games?
Monsters University finds the creative minds at Disney/Pixar firing on all cylinders as they bring to life the college experience with an explosion of colors, ideas, and comedic bits that nearly all land exactly where they’re supposed to. Taking the awkward freshman process to new heights, director Dan Scanlan works with co-screenwriters Robert L. Baird and Daniel Gerson to create a fully developed array of characters that interact with our two lovable leads in a series of honestly hysterical situation. Everything on screen looks unique and thought-out…carefully planned for maximum effect.
For fans of the original film there’s a lot of nicely placed foreshadowing in place and certain major players from the first movie pop up here and there as secondary characters. I wished I had watched the first film again before seeing this because I feel I’d have found several more of these moments that hint at what’s to come.
Returning voice talents Crystal (Parental Guidance) and Goodman (Argo, Flight, Arachnophobia) are top notch here, conveying a youthful exuberance without sacrificing the wise charm that made them such a good team in Monsters Inc. Oscar winner Helen Mirren (Hitchcock, The Door) is pitch perfect as the imposing dean of Monsters University that takes a dislike to Mike and Sulley and others such as Aubrey Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed, The To-Do List), John Krasinski (Promised Land) and Steve Buscemi (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) have solid contributions.
What I’ve always appreciated about Disney/Pixar films are how economical they are…there’s rarely something on screen that isn’t engaging or interesting and when the film needs to make a point or highlight a lesson all of that extra business is pulled back to let the story shine through. This is a film filled with larger than life characters and big laughs…a high water mark for all involved. I found it better than the original because it makes more of an emotional connection to the audience with its themes of acceptance and finding value in others.
In the rash of summer movies that are about to be unleashed, Monsters University was nowhere near the top of my list of anticipated flicks. Like a recurring theme in the film though, it’s important that I acknowledge that I was wrong and to say that I was surprised that the film surprised me as much as it did. It’s a winning combination of creativity and talent that’s certain to entertain. Enroll in Monsters University pronto and experience college life at its funniest finest.