Long before the events depicted in Monsters, Inc., Michael “Mike” Wasowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. “Sully” Sullivan (John Goodman) are freshman at Monsters University. As complete opposites (Mike is a book-smart dreamer, while Sully is big-headed natural scarer), they initially butt heads. But when their ego clashes threaten their chances of becoming Scarers for Monstropolis, they’re forced to band together and prove their natural born talents to Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren).
Returning to the crisp, vivid world of Monstropolis, Monsters University is an energetic and humorous, if unremarkable, romp that feels surprisingly like a 1980?s college comedy, with most of the wacky shenanigans, plot tropes and stereotypical secondary characters in tact. As a result, the narrative is somewhat mediocre and predictable, containing less of an emotional heart that audiences have come to expect from the studio responsible for such heart-tuggers as Toy Story and WALL·E.
The hijinks are fun nonetheless, and there’s more than enough foolish gags to keep children and adults entertained (an over-the-top frat party and Squishy’s continued embarrassment at his mother’s affectionate ways are worth particular mention). It grows weary towards the second act, however, when the script struggles to maintain the verve and the screenwriters – Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson and Dan Scanlon – attempt to shove emotional significance down our throats.
But whatever its issues, there’s an inescapable air of elation about being back in the company of Mike and Sully. Like Monsters, Inc., Monsters University is very much about the dynamic between these two characters, and it’s nice to see that this hasn’t been lost or squandered in any way. Crystal and Goodman settle back into the roles effortlessly, and are ably supported by Mirren as Dean Hardscrabble, the only of the new additions to make much of an impression.
It, too, is beautifully animated, with the University campus, in particular, brought to stunning life in a way that’s likely to make the older audience members nostalgic for their college years. Pixar may be experiencing a dip in their storytelling (although last year’s Brave was an original story, it didn’t catch on that well with audiences or critics), but they’re still leaps and bounds ahead of many animation studios when it comes to the level of attention-to-detail and background gags they award to each and every one of their films.
Monsters University, then, is a brisk, amusing and lively caper that’s not without its own share of twists, turns, surprises and moments of genuine beauty (the ten minutes featuring a young Mike touring the Scare Floor of Monsters Incorporated is nothing less than extraordinary). It may not be the sequel that Monsters, Inc. deserves, nor as classic as some of Pixar’s previous efforts, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth a place on our cinema screens.