Monsters University (U)

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Monsters University (U)

  • Starring: Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, Dame Helen Mirren, John Krasinski, Nathan Fillion
  • Director: Dan Scanlon
  • Duration: 110 mins
  • Year: 2013

At six-years-old, Mike Wazowski ignites his desire to become a scarer. Many years later, he excitedly heads off to university to realise his dream but hulking classmate Sulley gets all of the attention and is courted by the Roar Omega Roar fraternity.


Alison Rowat's Review

It is a measure of the kind of power that the animation studio Pixar has come to wield that a new release is treated as not just another family film but a cinema event. This weekend only the mega-budget, crash-bang-wallop monster fest of Pacific Rim dares to do serious battle for the number one slot against Monsters University. Prediction: monsters will be the gods of the box office.

That will not be because of any startling sense of originality, as has so often been the case with Pixar. Monsters University, being the story of how Mike met Sulley, is a prequel to the Oscar-winning Monsters, Inc of 2001. While it inevitably does not have quite the same wow power as that first movie, it is still a thrilling, funny, moving salute to friendship and trying one’s best.

Monsters University also comes along just as other animation studios are graduating into the big league. Long gone are the days when Pixar was the new, exciting, and only cutting-edge kid on the family film block. The competition is intensifying, from DreamWorks (Madagascar, Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon) to Universal (Despicable Me).

Pixar, however, still owns the place in terms of earnings per picture. It retains top spot because for all that it has become a giant in its own right after the union with Disney, it still thinks and acts like an outsider, striving to come from left field when other family films are content to go straight down the middle. So it is with Monsters University.

Billy Crystal and John Goodman are back as the voices of the little green one-eyed guy and the big blue furry giant. This time, however, they are not the fully fledged, wisecracking “scarers” of Monsters, Inc, whose purpose in life is to capture the screams that power Monstropolis. Monsters University finds our lovably gruesome twosome at that awkward but thrilling point in life where college, the big wide world, a promising future, etc, beckons. Cue warm, squidgy feelings among the adults in the audience as they remember those crazy, hazy days of no mortgages and getting up at noon.

Younger cinemagoers get to join the party when Scanlon’s picture flashes back further to show what a very young Mike and Sulley were like. In the case of Mike, we find a youngster who tries extremely hard at everything, from his school work to making friendships, but fails to be a champion at anything. If there is a kid left over after partners are picked, you can bet your homework it is Mike. Sulley, in contrast, is the kind of kid everyone wants to be, or have as a friend. Affable, confident, naturally gifted at what he wants to do in life (scaring), Sulley has it all going on, and it is all going good.

With the basics of the characters established, the picture trips joyfully down university memory lane with moving in day (Mike lands Steve Buscemi as a roommate), first lectures, and the crucial job of choosing which societies to join. Then comes the hard part – knuckling down and succeeding in one’s chosen course. Sulley thinks it will be a breeze and acts accordingly. Mike, as ever, is sweating everything, especially the small stuff.

The big stuff boils down to the principal everyone has to please if they are to achieve their career ambitions. Dean Hardscrabble, voiced by Helen Mirren, is half dragon lady, half centipede, and all terror. While the star of The Queen is majestically stern in tone, it is the other sounds she makes, particularly the scuttle of her many legs as she moves across the floor, that deliver the real heebie-jeebies.

It is this kind of attention to detail that made Pixar’s name. Nothing is deemed too small to be insignificant. The joys are in the particulars, from the choice of someone’s in-car music to the institution of Monsters University itself. Created as a sort of cross between Hogwarts and Harvard, MU is old school in every sense, being a place of stone walls, climbing ivy, and lecture theatres clad in wood. It is the kind of joint one would need a very, very, large student loan to attend. In animation land, mercifully, there are no such cares. Even in the crowd scenes – one of the real tests of an animation studio – Pixar more than makes the grade. In the grand tradition of the Simpsons and every other animation worth the ticket price, there is so much to see in one frame, so many visual jokes going on.

Audiences have come to take visual feasts for granted in a Pixar/Disney film, and MU is no exception. But they also want something out of the ordinary in the story, and Scanlon delivers here too. As we watch Mike, Sulley and their friends try to become scarers the most terrifying notion of all is raised: that maybe, just maybe, dreams might not come true for everyone every time. For a film that is preceded with the Disney signature tune of “When you wish upon a star” this is radical thinking indeed. Top of the class again, Pixar.