A prequel to the original Monsters Inc (2001), this second outing for Mike and Sulley is big on laughs and has a lot of heart, just like the original.
Monsters University, directed by Dan Scanlon, begins the story at Mike’s elementary school, with a trip to the factory we know so well from the first movie. Packed with cute references to the original, there are lots of jokes especially for the adults (or the grown-up kids who grew up with the first movie).
The main action takes place once Mike (Billy Crystal) arrives at University. With plenty of visual and scripted gags about student stereotypes, the film avoids cliché, and instead opts for some excellently executed comic moments. All our old favourite characters are back, with Mike’s room-mate, and future nemesis Randall (Steve Buscemi) and John Goodman’s Sullivan taking centre stage.
Sullivan is exactly what you would expect from a natural-born-scarer, with a famous father: in essence, a college jock. Arrogant, lazy and a fan of pranks, Sullivan soon makes an enemy of Mike and both are kicked out of the scaring programme.
The fun really begins when the pair team up to enter the “Scare Games”, in which they place a wager with Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren). The monsters gamble to either win the games and get back on the scaring programme, or lose and be kicked out of college altogether. Dean Hardscrabble is a genius example of Pixar creation, with the body of a cockroach and wings of a dragon; perfectly terrifying headmistress material.
To complete their Scare Games team, Mike and Sulley join nerdy fraternity Oozma Kappa – more fond of cocoa and cross-stitch than college football and parties. Fraternity brothers Squishy (Peter Sohn), Don ( Joel Murray), Terri and Terry (Sean Hayes and Dave Foley), and my personal favourite Charlie Day as philosophy major Art live in Squishy’s mum’s house off-campus – hardly the height of college cool.
The team is hopeless to say the least, but with some coaching from Mike and some misadventures and humiliation along the way, Oozma Kappa prove themselves to be the Games’ true underdogs, and needless to say, Mike and Sulley’s friendship is set back on track.
The animation, as ever, is fantastic, and one cannot help but envy the role of the Pixar art team: to create an entire school of monsters, of every shape, size and colour must have been a hilariously fun challenge.
My favourites in the film were stoner Art, part of OK and Squishy’s mother Ms Squibbles (Julia Sweeney), with her typical ‘Mom’ embarrassing habits, such as doing the laundry during the fraternity initiation, or demanding the boys wear their seatbelts during what should be a getaway.
The film felt quite long for a kid’s movie, but essentially, Monsters University is really for old kids – that is to say those of us who were children when the first film was made. I really enjoyed the movie, from start to finish, and feel that this is a great film in its own right – not just another prequel. The final montage is perfect to fill in the gaps in the story without over-doing the sentimentality, and the film wraps up just in time to ensure that this will not be a franchise.
The most surprising part of the movie, was the short film at the start. Pixar are renowned for their inspiring short animated films, and The Blue Umbrella was a triumph. Interestingly animated, with a mixture of real world and CGI footage, this short tells the story of a lonely umbrella in a busy metropolitan city, looking for love. Pixar capture the spirit of a bustling (New York?) rush hour with impressive animation elements, most memorably the creaking faces of the traffic lights and pipes.
All in all a triumph: a great family movie, with some strong positive morals about loyalty and trust, and a lot of laughs along the way.