MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW – You have been warned.
Monster’s university is the first of its kind for Pixar in a couple of ways. It’s their first prequel and their first college movie. It turns out they can do both rather well – giving us their best film since Toy Story 3 and the best film to see this summer with anybody.
Monster’s University follows the titular characters – Mike Wasowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) – in their college years, battling for a place in the scare programme after an unfortunate accident sees them both kicked out of the course. The film is about Mike and Sully blossoming into their strong friendship we see in the original, starting from a huge rivalry between the two into both of them needing to help each other in order to win the Scare Games to get back into the scare programme.
The film opens with a very touching and funny scene involving Mike as a little kid finally getting to see his idols at Monster’s Inc. working. This is also where you see that Mike is under-appreciated and decides that he wants to prove to everyone that he can (and will) be a scarer – the general premise of the film and Mike and Sully’s rivalry.
Monster’s University has another unique aspect; it is the directorial debut of Dan Scanlon and he has done a very good job in maintaining the feeling and tone that the original film set as a precedent. Just as the first film, this prequel is hilarious, heart-warming and very fun. Most of this comes from the very large cast of characters, and there’s not a dud one in the lot: We see what turned Randall (Steve Buscemi) into the villain we know him to be, the ROR fraternity – who provide the antagonist role to some extent, the main one being Johnny J. Worthington III (Nathan Fillion) – the Oozma Kappa fraternity (of which Mike and Sully are key members): Don Carlton the mature student (Joel Murray), Terri Perry and Terry Perry (Sean Hayes and Dave Foley respectively), a two headed, half dancer, Scott “Squishy” Squibbles (Peter Sohn), Art (Charlie Day), a new age philosophy major and Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) the dean of the scare programme. Each character, new and old is as well thought out and fleshed out as the last; with each respective voice actor doing a fantastic job throughout.
However, as good as the film is, it does not offer the same level of emotional attachment as the first film had as it does not contain Boo or any character on a similar level. The film does contain the occasional moment of heart-felt emotion, but it is simply not on the same level as many other of Pixar’s films. On the other hand, the film is just as funny as the majority of Pixar’s films, while perhaps not quite as witty as some of their older efforts, it is still very, very funny and up there with the best of them. Art in particular is incredibly funny and perhaps the standout comedy character of the film in my opinion, a character that could surely make anyone laugh.
The chemistry between Crystal and Goodman is still there and just as good as ever, but what’s more incredible is the chemistry between every single character in the film, really livening up the movie and adding yet another layer of genius to the already impressive movie. The chemistry between each and every character is of particular importance as without the chemistry, the film would lag behind in its own craziness. Within all of the crazy characters new and old are many brilliant nods to Monster’s Inc. that really reward fans of the original film, while not alienating those who do not have such a knowledge.
Pixar films are well known for their outstanding visuals, often putting most other computer animated film visuals to shame. Monster’s University is no different and contains some of the sharpest, brightest and striking visuals you will ever see in an animated feature. Several scenes involving Dean Hardscrabble really impress with spectacular lighting and “camerawork”, adding a huge amount of atmosphere in order to present her character in a dominating and perhaps antagonistic light.
The concluding twenty or so minutes contain very impressive visuals pushing the feel and tone of the scenes in incredible detail, providing perhaps one of the finest endings to a film I have seen since Toy Story 3. But this is just one of the many impressive aspects of a great film.
Monster’s University finds Pixar back on form, not only showing that they can make a fantastic prequel, but that they can still create funny, poignant films that can and do appeal to everybody.
While not quite containing the same emotional hooks as several of Pixar’s past repertoire, it is very funny and a finely crafted film full of nice little nods to Monster’s Inc. that anybody should enjoy.