By Jordan Adler
Before they were incorporated, they were educated.
Beloved Pixar characters Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) return to the big screen in Monsters University, the animation studio’s first prequel.
Keeping with the flick’s academic setting, here is the Monsters University report card.
When we meet them in Monsters Inc., Mike and Sulley are an amazing team. However, that friendship took time to develop, and it all began in freshman year at Monsters University. As new students in the School of Scaring, bookworm Mike and carefree frat boy Sulley compete for grades and approval from their headmaster, Dean Hardscrabble (voiced by Helen Mirren). They turn an initial rivalry into friendship when they compete on the same team for the school’s “Scare Games.”
It is great fun to watch these future scaring champs occupy an underdog status and compete in many thrilling, entertaining challenges. While Monsters University is engaging, it does not quite have the emotional pull that the original had when it relied on the Boo character to bring heart to the story. Regardless, the film has a good moral and teaches a worthwhile lesson about dealing with failure and projecting that into success.
Pixar has created dozens of endearing, memorable characters and Monsters University is full of great additions. There are many original cliques of monster misfits at the school, from the brawny frat boys to the scaly sorority girls. However, the best (and funniest) creations are the members of Oozma Kappa, the fraternity that Mike and Sulley join. Among them is two-headed monster Terri and Terry Perry (voiced by Sean Hayes and Dave Foley), a furry and funny philosophy major named Art (voiced by Charlie Day), and nervous, five-eyed mama’s boy Squishy (voiced by Pete Sohn).
While the new characters are a blast, Mike and Sulley stay within the conventions of their nerd and jock types. Mike is a studious worker determined to succeed, although intimidated by the bigger scarers (in the film, your scaring prowess determines your social life). Meanwhile, Sulley is a slacker, coasting through school on a family name and his obvious fright factor. Mike and Sulley are lovable as usual, but their back-stories are clichéd.
Pixar continues to clear a bar they have set repeatedly for excellence in animation quality and detail. The animators do a terrific job capturing the staples of college life – tall, gothic buildings, fraternity house parties, massive sporting events and the inevitable coffee addiction – and they incorporate these aspects cleverly into the story and setting. The campus matches what any prospective student would imagine their dream school to look like. The animators also have many original character designs for a student body populated by furry, slimy creatures of various shapes and sizes. An exceptional effort from an animation team that has little left to prove.
While Monsters University may not have the same emotional resonance as the 2001 original, it is still a delightful, funny and original entry in the Pixar canon.
Final grade: B+. Graduates with Honours
Extra credit: Get to the theatre early to catch The Blue Umbrella, another wistful and moving animated short from Pixar Studios. Also, make sure to sit through the end credits to catch one of the film’s funniest scenes.
Monsters University is out in theatres now!
Ever wondered how Pixar brought the college experience to life in The Monsters University? Find out how they did it HERE.