Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes
MPAA Rating: G
Directed by: Dan Scanlon
Written by: Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird & Dan Scanlon
Voices of: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Joel Murray, Dave Foley, Sean Hayes, Peter Sohn, Charlie Day & Helen Mirren
Pixar spoiled us. They really did. With films like FINDING NEMO and the first two TOY STORY films in their early years, it seemed that a new company was taking over family friendly entertainment. From 2007 to 2010, Pixar really hit their stride with RATATOUILLE, WALL-E, UP, and TOY STORY 3 (which all rank as some of the best family films I’ve ever seen in my life). Disney recently bought them as a company though and this has become apparent from CARS 2 (a sequel to a movie that was on the lower end of the Pixar scale to begin with) and this film, MONSTERS UNIVERSITY.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY is a prequel to MONSTERS INC. While that first film was great (but not among Pixar’s best), this prequel gives us an origin story as to how the short one-eyed Mike Wazowski and the big hairy Sulley met in college. They originally weren’t the best of friends we saw in MONSTERS INC. They started off as bitter rivals at the prestigious scare program at Monsters University, learning how to terrify children in order to get scream power (the natural resource that supplies energy in the Monster world).
After a blunder on the part of both Mike and Sulley, they find themselves forced out of the scare program by the tyrannical dean. However, there is a glimmer of hope. The annual Scare Games are coming up and Mike has a plan to compete with the fraternities and sororities to prove that he, Sulley, and a motley crew of non-intimidating monsters have what it takes to scare!
Seeing as this is a prequel. we know exactly where Mike and Sulley will wind up. However, there is a bit of energy and fun injected into a story that does seem overly familiar. The film also has plenty of nods and inside jokes that refer to the original film. The returning voice cast of John Goodman, Billy Crystal, and Steve Buscemi (among others) is essential to the characters. Helen Mirren also voices the monstrous (literally) dean of Monsters University. Joel Murray, Dave Foley, and Charlie Day are among the other characters as well.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY has a strong message behind the story about being true to yourself and it doesn’t bludgeon you over the head with it. This element is actually told in a somewhat mature and clever fashion (much like Pixar used to do in their best work). This isn’t really crucial to the plot until the final third (which is arguably the best part of the movie).
As far as the first two-thirds go, the plot feels kind of like a G-rated REVENGE OF THE NERDS with cutesy monsters. In this sense, it’s not nearly as good or special as MONSTERS INC. was. While MONSTERS UNIVERSITY isn’t bad, it also feels plain unnecessary. It’s a cutesy kid’s film that has a vibrant color scheme, a first-rate cast, and a message that they can take to heart. However, that’s all MONSTERS UNIVERSITY is: a kid’s film.
I am not just referring to Pixar when I say that the best family entertainment invokes a sense of wonder from both the parent and the child. Pixar used to deliver this constantly, but now it seems DreamWorks Animation and some Disney films are doing this instead. WRECK-IT RALPH and MEGAMIND are two of my absolute favorite family films of the past five years. This is because they make you forget that you’re just watching a computer animated creation and bring you into a world on-screen. MONSTERS UNIVERSITY never seems to clear this hurdle. With the prospects of TOY STORY 4 and FINDING DORY, it seems that this trend won’t end. We’ll always have the best material from the past though.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY comes recommended as something to stick on in front of your child. It won’t make you pull your hair out in frustration, but it’s far from one of the better family movies, especially from a once revered company.