***1/2 (out of 5)
June 21, 2013
Billy Crystal as MIKE
John Goodman as SULLIVAN
Steve Buscemi as RANDY
Helen Mirren as DEAN HARDSCRABBLE
Peter Sohn as SQUISHY
Joel Murray as DON
Sean Hayes as TERRI
Dave Foley as TERRY
Charlie Day as ART
Directed by: Dan Scanlon
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Pixar has had it kind of rough lately. Not with me, mind you, but with many other critics. While I thoroughly enjoyed “Cars 2” a couple years ago, many critics raked it over the coals. And last year’s “Brave” was charming and beautifully animated, but it took its fair share of jabs for being too derivative of previous Disney films.
Still, that’s not stopping either Pixar or Disney. They’ve created another sequel to the beloved and groundbreaking CGI films, which is pretty standard for the Disney marketing plan. “Monsters University” is a prequel, actually, telling the story of how Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) met in college.
Mike starts out on the path to be a world-class scarer, though his natural talents just aren’t there to complement his book smarts. Sully has the natural talent, but he has no ambition. They start out as rivals and end up in trouble with Monsters University. To save face, they reluctantly team up for the campus Scare Games in order to get back to class and prove their worth as scarers.
Like many sequels (or in this case, prequels), “Monsters University” isn’t exactly a necessary film to be made. Sure, there’s a lot that can be done in it, but the story of “Monsters Inc.” was told in completion in 2001, and there was no real reason to go back to this universe. That’s the biggest hurdle this movie had to overcome (which was the Achilles’ heel for “Cars 2”).
Fortunately, being unnecessary doesn’t have to mean something is bad. (Hey, there’s an uplifting Pixar story in that statement, don’t you think?) Like both “Toy Story” sequels, “Monsters University” expands the universe and tells a tale with the kind of heart that you’d expect from Pixar.
The biggest challenge for “Monsters University” is to get past the set-up. It’s a bit clunky at first as we follow Mike to college to realize a dream we all know he won’t achieve. However, things move quickly into a tried and true ugly duckling college comedy along the lines of “Animal House” and “Revenge of the Nerds” (without all the drinking, sex and R-rated shenanigans, of course).
What really helps this movie along is the chemistry between Billy Crystal and John Goodman, who sold the heart behind “Monsters Inc.” Even though we all know the outcome, these two have enough charm to carry the film.
Supporting them is a Pixar standard: a strange group of misfit characters that make for an enjoyable ensemble. Like the fish in the tank from “Finding Nemo” or the toys in Andy’s room in “Toy Story,” the gang of frat brothers that Mike and Sully have offers a great level of comic relief to the sometimes serious story.
In the end, “Monsters University” works because it’s not trying to be bigger or better than the original. It’s just trying to tell a good story with loveable characters in a new setting. It’s not Pixar’s best, but it’s an adorable film for the whole family.
And as a bonus, which comes standard with any Pixar film, there’s a cute short film ahead of the feature called “The Blue Umbrella.” It’s a simple story with amazing photorealistic animation, showing a short love affair between two umbrellas in the big city. Using anthropomorphic characters with no dialogue, “The Blue Umbrella” taps into the innovative of animated surrealism to deliver a sweet story on its own.