Monsters University

Monsters University

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Offering a group of animators the chance to come up with some monster ideas is surely akin to giving a group of kids the keys to a sweetie shop. But although each idea may have its merits, using them all in the same film is not necessarily a good thing... unless you're from the Disney/Pixar merchandise creation team.

Monsters Inc was pure in spirit, putting its two buddies Mike Wazowski and James P "Sulley" Sullivan into a multitude of scenarios but keeping the focus tight on them. Monsters University doesn't keep the faith, laying the creatures on thick and fast. It's not that the new crowd aren't fun, but they're a distraction from those of us who would prefer to spend more time with the best buddy double-act in the Pixar universe.

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The story starts at the beginning, with Mike in braces and equipped with a Joe Pasquale voice, on a day trip to Monsters Inc. As we all know "children are extremely toxic" and the little monsters don't have the same charm as their grown-up counterparts either, so it's something of a relief when, after an accidental trip to a human bedroom later, he is inspired to make it to the top and we fast forward to him getting off the bus at the Monsters' University.

In a gentle nod to Dr Seuss - another writer to fall victim to over-populated films - he takes a brief, rhyming tour of the campus before heading to his dorm, where he discovers who he is rooming with. Enter Randall Boggs, a nervous shadow of the evil schemer he will become in the later film and sadly relegated to little more than a bit-part player here. In class, meanwhile, Mike encounters Sulley - a monster whose impressive roar and scary family pedigree make him the coolest kid in class. In a nice twist, the studious Mike and naturally gifted but lazy Sulley are soon locking horns and when a row comes to a screaming conclusion, they are kicked out of class by creepy head honcho Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren on cut-glass vocals), who, with her half-bat, half-millipede appearance and clicking noise as she walks, is likely to prove quite scary for very young kids.

It's at this point that children are expected to embrace a world of American frat houses and hazing, which in addition to being alien to the average young Brit (and quite possibly anyone outside of the US of A) is also at odds in general with the kid demographic - but we'll let that pass. The only way that Mike and Sulley can get back in the scare class is by winning the scare games and to do that they need a team, which leaves them trying to pull together the hapless members of fraternity house Oozma Kappa into a winning unit.

As the OK team go head to head with the beefed up jocks from the ROR frat house, sight gags abound - some of which are very funny - and the energy of the animation, with its bright candy colours and photo-real campus backdrop, is lovely to look at, if not particularly enhanced by the 3D. Fun does not necessarily equate to memorable, however, and the highlights of the film remain those moments when Sulley and Mike are alone, grappling with familiar ideas of friendship and loyalty while also boasting some decent one-liners. Billy Crystal and John Goodman are as lovable as ever in the central pairing and Mike is given a much more sympathetic underdog persona than in the later film. Always visually vibrant, Monsters University might not be as scarily good as Monsters Inc but it's a long way from frightful.

Reviewed on: 23 Jun 2013
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Mike and Sulley get some scary life lessons.
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Director: Dan Scanlon

Writer: Robert L Baird, Daniel Gerson, Dan Scanlon

Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Steve Buscemi, Nathan Fillion, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray

Year: 2013

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: USA

Festivals:

EIFF 2013

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