Starring: John Goodman (Argo), Billy Crystal (When Harry Met Sally), Helen Mirren (The Queen), Nathan Fillion (Serenity), Charlie Day (Pacific Rim)
Director: Dan Scanlon
Writers: Daniel Gerson & Robert L. Baird and Dan Scanlon
Runtime: 1 hour 44 minutes
Release Date: 21 June (US), 12 July (UK)
Pixar has had mixed success when it comes to sequels. Whilst the Toy Story sequels were just as good as the original, there’s Cars 2. But how does the company fare with a prequel? Is Monsters University a worthy predecessor to the original Monsters Inc,., or is it another disappointment for one of the best animation studios in the world?
Monsters University is very formulaic; you’ve probably seen the basic plot of this film at least half a dozen times. It’s your basic underdogs vs. the cool kids story filled with your standard archetypes, and for the most part doesn’t stray from that. But for a film like this, what really matters is the charm and the humour. And whilst not anything groundbreaking, the film is pretty charming. The jokes don’t always click, but the film is consistently amusing enough to stave off boredom. But what really makes the film work are two elements. Firstly, the relationship between Mike and Sully; there’s a lot more tension between these two this time around, and the way they play off each other is just as great as it was twelve years ago. You really do get the feeling that these two are good friends by the end, and the film truly shows why these two are inseparable. But the main reason I think the film works is that it sends out a harsh but necessary lesson for kids. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you’re just not cut out for something but that doesn’t mean you’re useless. It’s nice to see a kids’ film with a message that goes beyond the usual “believe in yourself” kind of stuff we’re used to.
The film is full of characters, some returning from the original and others brand new. As mentioned before, Goodman and Crystal’s repartee from the first movie feels like they never left, and their performances carry the film well. Steve Buscemi returns as the villainous Randall (before he became villainous), but I feel he doesn’t get enough screentime and seems like he is there to just remind you of the original. Helen Mirren as the dean of the university is a good casting choice, and it gives her an opportunity to flex her villainous muscles. Firefly’s Nathan Fillion plays the main jock d*****bag, and he seems to be having fun with his clichéd character. Charlie Day is also worth a few laughs, bringing his trademark awkwardness to a particularly strange character. There are also a few other cameos from original cast members, but I’ll leave it to you to spot them.
The quality of Pixar’s animation is just astounding at this point. The attention to detail in even the tiniest of things make a setting as pretty basic as a university seem like a thing of wonder. The monster designs are just as inventive as ever, with many of them reflecting the nature of their characters. The score by Randy Newman is catchy and up-beat, but also scary and touching at a moment’s notice.
Monsters University may not be Pixar’s crowing achievement, but it is certainly worth watching, especially if you’re a big fan of the original. It’s the best movie Pixar has put out since Toy Story 3, but I do hope that they focus more on original ideas in the future.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10