Film Review: Monsters University

With previous work such as the delectable Ratatouille and the refreshing and immersive Finding Nemo, Pixar was once a studio renowned for their exciting, new ideas and their ability to create ambitious and beautiful worlds, packed with interesting characters, which captivated both children and adults alike.

However, a recent hit-and-miss shift towards money-spinning spinoffs and sequels has left audiences wondering what happened to their once famous creativity. This trend of treading old ground continues with Pixar’s first prequel, Monsters University, which falls somewhere in between the nostalgic brilliance of Toy Story 3 and the unnecessary disappointment that was Cars 2.

John Goodman and Billy Crystal once again lend their voices to Monsters Inc.’s future top scaring duo, Mike Wazowski and James “Sulley” Sullivan.  Since he was a very young monster, Mike has always had his eye on becoming a scarer. However, no matter how much he studies, he’ll never be fearsome enough. Sulley is the brawn to Mike’s brain; the large and overconfident natural scarer with a ferocious roar.

Both majoring in Monsters University’s scaring program, the two monsters initially dislike each other as they compete to become top of the class. However, when the pair crosses the supremely menacing dean of the scaring program, Ms. Hardscrabble (excellently voiced by Helen Mirren), they are removed from the course. They join Oozma Kappa, a hilarious fraternity of outcasts and misfits, and are forced to co-operate in the university’s Scare Games as they attempt to regain their place.

The plot isn’t particularly inventive, but Mike and Sulley’s early rivalry and growing friendship is one of the film’s stronger points, as it provides both an entertaining premise and a strong backstory to the superior original. Steve Buscemi returns as Randall Boggs, Sulley’s intimidatingly slimy nemesis in Monsters Inc. but, unfortunately, he is practically invisible in a much less prominent role. The lack of the adorable Boo is also disappointingly noticeable, although some of the new characters, such as Oozma Kappa members Art (voiced by Charlie Day) and the lovable Squishy, are almost enough to fill the void. The university setting is also a very educated decision, given that childhood fans of the original are now probably students themselves.

Although their storytelling has regressed slightly, Pixar has massively upped the ante in the visuals department. Monsters University looks incredible and is an enormous upgrade from twelve years ago. The film is also preceded in typical Pixar fashion with a short film directed by Saschka Unseld, titled The Blue Umbrella. Frankly, it’s a work of art; a mesmerisingly simple piece, with a beautiful soundtrack and almost photorealistic visuals.

Monsters University is enjoyable enough, but it lacks the magic and creativity that made the original an animated classic. Hopefully, The Blue Umbrella is a true sign of things to come, and proof that the creative juices at Pixar are still flowing.

by Gary Woodcock