There's plenty to admire in the new release, Monsters University, but it lacks the human interaction of it predecessor, feeling too estranged from our world to truly connect.
An education at Monsters University
Director: Dan Scanlon
Starring: (voices) Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina
It’s been 12 years since Monsters, Inc, Pixar’s animated tale of how creatures of the night spirit their way into our world to scare little children. If it was never quite a Pixar classic, such as Toy Story or Finding Nemo, it gave us two memorable leads – in the shape of the turquoise-trim chief “Scarer” Sulley (voiced by John Goodman) and his friend and assistant, the bubble-eyed biped Mike (Billy Crystal).
Monsters University reacquaints us with both in a prequel that shows they weren’t always the best of friends. Mike is the ultra-keen student, desperate to prove he’s got what it takes to scare for a living. Sulley is the opposite – laid-back and all too reliant on a monstrous roar and his family reputation. Neither wind up impressing the university’s bat-winged, beetle-legged dean Hardscabble (Helen Mirren), who swiftly finds an excuse to eject both from the “Scarer” programme.
The only way back in is via the inter-house “Scare Games” and a bet with the dean; win and Mike and Sulley are on the course again but lose and they’re expelled for good. Unfortunately, aside from their antipathy for each other, theirs is hardly a crack team – consisting of the oddballs from Oozma Kappa, the lamest fraternity on campus. Those who saw The House Bunny with Anna Faris will probably recognise the blueprint.
Amid the Scare Games, there are some funny scenes – notably one race where the crowds throw these furry creatures at the participants causing body parts to swell up with an instant allergic reaction (kids at the screening I saw were howling with laughter at this). Fans of the original will also doubtless welcome the return of the Steve Buscemi-voiced chameleon Randy – who swiftly plots against Mike and Sulley.
While plundering the age-old themes of teamwork and triumph over adversity is hardly gold-medal material, the script – co-written by the incoming director Dan Scanlon with two Monsters, Inc alumni, Robert Baird and Daniel Gerson – is robust enough. It also delivers a neatly plotted, not-entirely-predictable finale, involving Mike’s own doubts about his ability to scare.
With some 400 background monsters, there’s plenty to admire here too – with some lovely sight gags including a snail-like creature desperately hurrying to get to class on time (and barely moving an inch). But what Monsters University lacks is the human interaction of its predecessor, feeling too estranged from our world to truly connect. The Pixar magic, while not entirely absent, is only here in sprinkles.
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