Pixar have had varied success when it comes to sequels; the only franchises deemed worthy enough to have them have proved to both be successfully commercially, if not critically. As for the positively received sequels, you have your almost universally loved Toy Story sequels, and then you have Cars 2, which is not so much. Thankfully, although it treads a fine line (being a prequel and all), Monsters University happily falls into the former category.
Taking place a good few years before the events of 2001’s Monsters Inc, MU follows Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) in his attempt to become a Scarer – the monster world’s best of the best. He enrols in the titular Monsters University and through a series of circumstances finds himself in the university’s least scary fraternity along with Sulley (John Goodman), just as the Scare Games – a series of escalating trials that will prove which house is the scariest of them all – are beginning. Can Mike and Sulley overcome all the odds and win?
The plot hits all the familiar beats you’d expect this type of film to do but it’s fabulous to watch. The animation is the sharpest of the Pixar films to date, the visual gags come at you thick and fast (so much so that you’ll probably miss half of them), the actual outright jokes are brilliant and will have you roaring and the message at the heart of the movie is sweet and genuine without battering you over the head with its sentimentality. The story is not, as you might expect, how Mike and Sulley became friends (they spend most of the movie as enemies) but rather how they came to be the people…sorry, monsters we see in Monsters Inc. It’s a story with surprisingly adult themes of maybe what you want to do isn’t what you’re meant to do. This carries the film as there’s no real out and out villain of the piece here, except for the insecurities of the monsters themselves (Jeez, this is a kids film, right?)
While this film doesn’t have the heart of the previous Monsters movie, (there’s no little lost girl this time around) it expands the universe of these movies so much more, as well as the central relationship between the starring duo. Of course, if you’re taking your youngsters to this, they won’t really mind as its brightly coloured hilarity will likely win them over. For the adults you’ll notice cute Pixar riffs on the college movie clichés, although of the strictly U rated variety – a college house party being a highlight.
The voice cast are uniformly great, with Goodman and Crystal reprising these roles with ease. Of the new characters, Nathan Fillion’s big man on campus is good for seeing him get his eventual commupance, and Helen Mirren gives understated menace (well, as understated as a flying dragon/centipede thing can) as the dean of the university.
Packed with humour, heart and pathos, it’s a triumph on all fronts. It’s not as good as Monster Inc. but it certainly can hold its head(s) high as one of the better Pixar efforts.
ALSO, before the main feature there’s a little short called The Blue Umbrella, which is just delightful. Make sure you get there early enough to see it.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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