It's not the best Pixar effort, but the loveable monsters make for an amusing prequel
Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman
Directed by: Dan Scanlon
Stars: 3 out of 4
The upcoming big-budget, animated fare this year is largely made up of sequels. Following the "Monsters University" prequel, we are being treated to:
"Despicable Me 2" (July 3): Our now not-so-despicable hero Gru is recruited by the anti-villain league to battle a super-criminal.
"The Smurfs 2" (July 31): The Smurfs reteam with their human friends to rescue Smurfette, who's been captured by Gargamel.
"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2" (Sept. 27): Flint Lockwood learns that his invention is still operational – churning out food hybrids – and he must leave his new job to neutralize it again.
We've waited more than a decade since "Monsters, Inc." to see Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. "Sulley" Sullivan (John Goodman) reunited for another movie.
That reunion alone would be cause for celebration. Fortunately, the creative team at Pixar also has given us another fun film to enjoy.
Given that life in Monstropolis was looking pretty rosy at the end of "Monsters, Inc.," the producers chose a prequel for our monster heroes, showing us how they first met in college at "Monsters University."
The mismatched pair do not hit it off. Mike has dreamed of getting into the scarer program at MU since he was a child, and he is on a mission to succeed by being the hardest-working student on campus, despite a lack of talent that is evident to those around him. Sulley, on the other hand, comes from a long line of legendary scarers, and he's the prototypical college slacker who thinks he can get by on his charm and abilities without actually doing any work.
They develop an instant contempt for each other, but it's the movies, so we know fate will force them together. Circumstances make both Mike and Sulley outcasts at MU. Their one chance for redemption will be the scare games, held annually by the MU fraternities. By the time the two square pegs find this out, however, they have only the outcast fraternity of misfits, Oozma Kappa, to enlist in their quest.
The downside for this movie is that, unlike the wonderfully original "Monsters, Inc.," the prequel is saddled with a cliché-ridden script in which pretty much all of the geeks vs. cool kids gags we've seen in countless past college comedies are trotted out again to be played out in the monster world. For example, when our heroes are invited to a party only to be the butt of a cruel joke, it's neither surprising nor funny. The only difference here is that we are spared the sexual innuendo and sophomoric sex and alcohol gags that give their human counterpart films a certain sleaze factor. This is Disney, after all.
On the plus side, there are six levels to the scare games that offer a lot of fun and amusement. And we learn about some fun origins, such as how Randall Boggs comes to loathe Mike and Sulley, making him the villain he is in "Monsters, Inc." Other favorites, such as George Sanderson, Roz and a Yeti (John Ratzenberger) also make brief appearances.
We meet some fun new monsters, including fraternity brothers Terry (Dave Foley) and Terri (Sean Hayes) and Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren).
And, of course, there is travel into the human world, which is one of the stronger parts of the film.
The animation is up to Pixar standards and exceeds the work done on "Monsters, Inc." There are scenes where you can hardly tell you're looking at animation, even though it's a movie about monsters.
"Monsters University" isn't in the same league as classic Pixar films like "Toy Story" or "Up," and it pales when compared to the "Toy Story" sequels. But it is noticeably better than "Cars 2" and is definitely worth a trip to the theater.
Some critics may see the film as another sign that Pixar has lost its edge, but last year's "Brave" should remind them that the studio is still making high-quality originals, even while it succumbs to the lure of sequels.