Monsters Inc. was a huge hit for the newly created Pixar studio and here they dip into the back catalogue to provide a prequel, the film explains how Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sullivan (John Goodman) met.
The best buddies of the earlier film were not always the closest of friends, in fact at Monsters University they disliked each other. The University prepares young Monsters to move into their chosen profession, with the very best going on to be “Scarers”.
The film is a rite of passage tale, mixing Monsters from the wrong side of tracks, lonely monsters, popular monsters all mashed together in the crucible of young life that University represents. Not so much what you learn, but what you experience.
The path to greatness is of course strewn with many pitfalls and obstacles to overcome. We get old friends and enemies appearing, which adds depth to the later film and characterisations. The background for Randy’s (Buscemi) hatred for the pair is detailed, despite being Mike’s original room-mate. We also get to meet a new central character, Dean Hardscrabble (Mirren), which must be the best character name of 2013.
Mike and Sullivan are not part of the “in” crowd, represented here by stereotypical “Jock”, Johnny (Nathan Fillion) head of the “Roar Omega Roar” fraternity. After various incidents, one including livestock but not what you think, they are left with a challenge that could spell the end of their fledgling scarer careers. Especially tough on Sullivan who comes from a long line of distinguished scarers.
Creating a new fraternity “Oozma Kappa” to enable them to enter the University Scare games, the group is populated by a rag tag bunch of misfit monsters. The fraternity members, “Squishy” and his mum, Art, Don, Terri and Terry get some great lines, they are all initially a bit hopeless and probably represent a little bit of all of us. The challenge Mike has been set makes winning the games the only option for him and hopefully will provide the motivation slacker Sullivan needs.
As you would expect, the animation, characterisation and voice acting is first rate and as usual Mirren is a welcome addition to the cast, her voice and characterisation is hard to miss. The story unfolds in unexpected ways and unlike Despicable Me 2 released at a similar time, takes time to add depth and meaning to the chases, laughs and general silliness. The script also makes time for a moment or two of quiet reflection, not long but enough to add some meaning to the enterprise.
There are some hard knocks for the characters and life lessons hard won, which shows Pixar has not taken the easy route on the screenplay, these are characters people care about and they are not short changed here.
Arguably, despite this being a notch above standard CGI fare, we do need to see something new from Pixar, this is another buddy movie, however well disguised and sources from older material. There is a slight danger that Pixar is turning into the very money machine it once so despised. Sure everyone expects there to be merchandising etc but we also expect to see inventiveness and the company taking risks with the material. The planned “Finding Nemo 2” however successful, is unlikely to break new ground.
Yet another solid entry into the Pixar canon of films, this lovingly creates the back-story for these much treasured characters. University is the perfect place to explore who you are and what you believe in and this translates well into the intelligently written script.
Great fun for young and old alike, all we need now from Pixar is some original stories and characters and all will be well with the world