Monsters University (U)
The problem with making some of the finest cinema in modern times is trying to keep up that quality. Case in point- Pixar. 2008-2010 saw ‘Wall*E’, ‘Up’ and ‘Toy Story 3’, each one as good (if not better) than the last. Then, in 2011… ‘Cars 2’. Hardly a bomb but a very ordinary film from a studio that doesn’t do ordinary. The visually delightful ‘Brave’ put them back on track, but can Pixar reaffirm their status as champion storytellers with their first prequel, ‘Monster University’?
Set before their 2004 classic ‘Monsters, Inc.’, we go back to the time where Mike and Sully (voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman) first meet- as freshmen at the prestigious Monsters University. Desperate to become a ‘scarer’ despite his diminutive size, Mike enrols in the harsh scaring programme, in the same class as the arrogant Sully, who believes he can coast through due to his famous father. Both monsters are flunked after one semester by the strict Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), and must now reluctantly join together with the unpopular fraternity Oozma Kappa to win the University’s ‘Scaring Games’ and prove Hardscrabble wrong.
‘Monster’s University’ is an absolute joy to watch, the animation is gorgeous, the gags genuinely funny and some of the set pieces very entertaining (including one great scene in the institution’s library), but it falls short of ‘…Inc’ by the simple virtue of story. As well told as it is, we know where it’s going, we know the pair end up achieving their dream of working at Monsters, Inc. , and so what follows is a rather familiar story where you still care about the characters, but the threat of the unknown isn’t there.
So, it’s not in the upper echelons of Pixar’s work, but does that make it bad? Of course not. It’s a wildly entertaining ride and even if we can all see the ending a mile off, these characters are well worth spending time with. Crystal and Goodman are still on top form in the leads, and there’s a host of fun new characters to warm too in their misfit dorm mates (some old faces pop up as well). As obvious as the casting may be, Mirren’s lofty tones work well as Hardscrabble and Nathan Fillion goes ‘full jock’ as Johnny J. Worthington III, president of the rival fraternity.
Far from a failure, ‘Monsters University’ proves that cinematic lightning doesn’t strike twice by not being the same wonderful movie ‘Monsters, Inc.’ was, but still being the strongest animated movie of the summer that will keep adults interest and enthral younger viewers, who are the ones this film is meant for anyway.
Monsters University is out in cinemas today.