Monsters University (2013)

Monsters University (2013)

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Lovely people but... a bit odd.
Lovely people but… a bit odd.

Twitter Plot Summary: We go back and see Sully and Mike in their university days as they learn to become Scarers.

Genre: Animation/Adventure/Comedy/Family/Fantasy

Director: Dan Scanlon

Key Cast: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirran, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Alfred Molina, Nathan Fillion.

Five Point Summary:

1. Young Mike deserves his own film.

2. Dean Hardscrabble is scary. 

3. Yep, called it – that’s Helen Mirren and Nathan Fillion.

4.  Big scares are all about psychology.

5. Finally – there’s John Ratzenberger.

It’s been 12 years since Monsters Inc, so the question is- how do you make a sequel to Monsters Inc? Well the answer is: you don’t. No, instead you make a prequel and go back to see Mike and Sully beginning university life. There was a lot of potential for this to be yawnsome – the college/university genre tropes are tired and played out – thankfully it’s rather good. I mean, it’s a Pixar film isn’t it? After a brief introduction to a young Mike being shown around Monsters Inc on a school trip (and deciding that he wants to be a Scarer when he grows up), the opening credits whizz by and tell us that Mike studies hard and gets into Monsters University to major in Scaring. It’s here that we’re introduced to Sully, a cocky jock caricature who’s father was one of the all time great Scarers. Sully and Mike have completely opposite approaches to scaring and soon take an instant dislike to each other, but circumstances push them together and they have to find a way of working as a team in order to stay at the university.

For anybody who has no clue how the American university system works, you may find yourselves lost amongst the many references to their schooling system. This does have the unfortunate effect of alienating some of the audience as there isn’t time to explain any of this in the story. Suffice to say, many students decide to join a fraternity – essentially a group of like-minded and/or similarly skilled individuals – which then compete in various challenges with other fraternities. This forms the core of Monsters University. The Scare Games prove to be the main bulk of the film, as the fraternity of the appropriately monster-esque Oozma Kappa are joined by Mike and Sully. Despite being a group of socially inadequate misifts, they have to work through a series of challenges and use their individual skills to their advantage.

Ye-haw! Ride that pig!
Ye-haw! Ride that pig!

The good thing is the prequel card isn’t overplayed. Sully and Mike are designed to look a bit younger of course, and it’s all clearly building up to the events of the first film, which is fine. The origins of Randy/Randall are nicely done, slowly turning from a nice guy into the villain we know from Monsters Inc. John Goodman and Billy Crystal inhabit their roles as if they’ve never been away, and their on-screen relationship is always great fun to see, but the real stars are the assorted misfits of Oozma Kappa. Terri and Terry Perry, a two-headed monster where one is a dancer and the other one isn’t (most awkward); Art, essentially a furry pair of arms/legs with a face, is a New Age Philosophy student; Don, a mature student with tentacles and a rockin’ bat-shaped moustache; and Squishy, a five eyed jelly thing who discovers that he is able to sneak up on others without being heard. Within this motley crew Art gets all of the best one-liners – any chance he can get a spin-off, Pixar?

There are a couple of nice nods to other films – one shot is take directly from Gladiator (think the first time Russell Crowe enters the Arena), and another that lifts almost gleefully that opening scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indy is chased by a tribe of natives. Little things like this are always nice to spot and add to the film if you’re a self-confessed film nut, but don’t detract from the experience if you’ve never seen the source material.
Thematically it’s appropriate to its audience in that, whatever plans you may have when you’re younger, it may not always turn out exactly as you’d expected. Whilst that might seem a little depressing, don’t take it that way. The message is that yes, things don’t always go to plan, but you will find something you enjoy and excel at even if it’s not exactly what you thought. Things have a habit of working themselves out and you often find yourself where you need to be one way or the other. That’s life, kids.

Unlike the majestic Toy Story trilogy, Monsters University doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor, but then it’s such a high benchmark that anything else pales in comparison. It is as enjoyable as you would expect from a Pixar film and hits all the right story notes, but we’ve been spoiled by both the original film and the fact the Toy Story sequels were pitch perfect. Thankfully it’s more Toy Story than Cars, take comfort in that.

Favourite scene: The Library challenge. Everybody has something important to do and marks a turning point in the narrative.

Quote: “Let’s see that slobber! Drool is a tool! Use it!”

Silly Moment: The initiation of Mike and Sully into Oozma Kappa is interrupted by Squishy’s mother entering the room and doing the washing. Silly in a good way.

Score: 4/5

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