How much do you love Animal House? I ask because the team behind Monsters University obviously holds it high regard. Over the years everything from Sydney White to Futurama has aped the story of rival fraternities battling it out on a college campus. Now it’s Pixar’s turn.
Set as a prequel to 2001’s Monsters, Inc. the story follows mismatched pair Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) as freshman students at the prestigious Monsters University. Most of the film’s first-half deals with the rivalry between the pair trying to show each other up as the school’s next big Scarer. Mike has the brains, but not the looks, and Sully’s lack of discipline undercuts his natural ability.
When the Mike and Sulley get on the bad side of Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) and face expulsion, they have no choice but to join the university’s least popular fraternity and work together with its other members (Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Charlie Day) to win a scare competition and remain in school.
Monsters University is a fun, if lightweight, entry into the Pixar franchise that lacks the heart and ingenuity of the first film. The plot’s meandering final act also gets away from screenwriters Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, and Dan Scanlon who can’t find a way to end the movie (even after the scare contest that dominates the final-half of the movie comes to a close). That said, the film provides plenty of fun moments. However, parents should be aware it also contains some scary scenes that made more than one youngster in the audience of the screening I attended let out enough screams to fill one of those energy canisters.
The 3D is competently done, but not really necessary as it doesn’t add anything extra to the overall experience. Although fun, at times the movie really seems to be just going through the motions (I’d compare it to Cars 2) and doesn’t have nearly as much fun with the concept as Futurama did (although to be fair, the show only had to fill 22-minutes as opposed to the slightly too long 110-minute running time of Monsters University). Although Monsters University offers a nice message to kids, it’s buried under an awful lot of Disney-ized college humor.
One final note, make sure to get to the film early enough to see Pixar’s latest short “The Blue Umbrella.” The six-minute silent short film about the love story between a pair of umbrellas during a rainstorm (where the various sounds of the city provide the main beat of the music that plays throughout the short) is worth seeing (although it was a little too sad in tone for some of the younger members of the audience in the screening I attended).