The Reel: Monsters University Reviewed

Ben Conniff

Another year, another animated adventure from Pixar.

Following last year’s Oscar-winning “Brave” is “Monsters University,” the studio’s first prequel, which sees several familiar faces from the studio’s 2001 hit “Monsters, Inc” return to the screem – I mean… screen. 

The story chronicles the relationship between Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) in its infancy – a time when the two weren’t always best pals. Forced to work together in order to salvage their reputations after the two cause a disturbance during the semester scare exam, Mike and Sulley join the misfit brothers of Oozma Kappa fraternity in order to compete in the annual Scare Games. The catch? If OK wins, all members receive admittance into MU’s prestigious Scare School. But if they lose, Mike and Sulley will be expelled from campus. Can the guys pull it off and prove Dean Hardscrabble (a shudder-inducing Helen Mirren) and the rest of the naysayers wrong?

Monsters University, like 2011’s “Cars 2” is another one of those movies that has absolutely no reason to exist besides milking the familiar, 12-year-old brand at the box office. But once you’ve seen it, everything about Monsters, Inc. makes much more sense.

Pixar’s level of creativity isn’t at its zenith here, mostly because they didn’t have to deviate that far in their conceptualization of how the Monster world should look. That being said, the attention to detail and the depth lent to the animation has never been better. The color palate appears to be infinite, with no two shades ever being the same. The apparent use of every color known to man, or monster for that matter, creates a sense of wide-eyed wonder for the audience. Just as Mike steps off the bus to marvel at MU’s sweeping campus for the first time, the audience may as well have stepped off the bus right behind him.

In addition to the gorgeous animation, I can’t give enough praise to the screenplay written by Robert L. Baird (Chicken Little), Daniel Gerson (Monsters, Inc.) and Dan Scanlon (Cars). The dialogue is hilarious with loads of clever references to the first film, including the origin of Sulley’s scaring rivalry with Randall (Steve Buscemi) and the first sighting of CDA agent 001. It’s also fascinating just to witness the relationship between the leads start with nothing more than contempt and blossom into the friendship that audiences know from Monsters, Inc. Quite the exercise in character development. And don’t get me started on the climax. The writers elect to go with a big twist followed by, quite literally, a slam-bang (stomp-roar) horror sequence that will have adults on the edge of their seats. If they were trying to find a way to top the rousing door chase sequence from the first film, they succeeded. 

That brings me to mention the star-studded cast of voice actors which features such big names, you’d think you were watching something from DreamWorks Animation. Billy Crystal, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi reprise their respective roles as Mike, Sulley and Randall. Helen Mirren stars as the story’s Waternoose-replacing authority figure and dean of Monsters University, Dean Hardscrabble. Mike and Sulley’s Oozma Kappa brothers are voiced by Charlie Day, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Joel Murray and Peter Sohn, with Day’s fun-loving, talking scarf Art stealing the show. Rounding out the cast are Alfred Molina as Professor Knight, the Scaring 101 teacher; Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza as the president of Greek Council; Nathan Fillion as Johnny Worthington, president of the snobby Roar Omega Roar fraternity, and John Krasinski as Frank McCay, an employee of Monsters, Inc. and Mike’s inspiration to attend Monsters University. Oh, and keep an eye out for a special cameo from John Ratzenberger, who’s had a role in all of Pixar’s feature films to date.

Monsters University is a prequel that seems at first that it has no business existing, but the world is better with it than without it. While not quite a peak in creativity, dazzling animation, impeccable voice acting and a script riddled with smart, clean humor as well as a rousing climax make this a more-than-welcome return to form for Pixar Animation Studios. For a college student who can relate to the monstrous madness onscreen, Monsters University is the most unadulterated fun I’ve had at the movies this summer, if not of 2013. Don’t miss it.