Article Published: Jun. 27, 2013 | Modified: Jun. 27, 2013
Having crashed in “Cars 2” and played it excessively safe in “Brave,” Disney Pixar goes back to school with “Monsters University.”
It doesn’t quite make the dean’s list of Pixar classics, but it’s a welcome return to form that towers over its competitors with blue fur and sharp, pointy teeth.
“Monsters University” returns us to the colorful, beastly world of 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.” years before our protagonists, best friends Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal, “When Harry Met Sally”) and James “Sully” Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman, “The Big Lebowski”), even met.
In this literal world of monsters, everything is powered by fear, sourced from the screams of children in the human world. Gathering these screams is an elite team of highly esteemed monsters, called “scarers,” who work for the power company, Monsters Inc.
Young Mike Wazowski wants nothing more than to be a scarer and devotes all his time and energy toward achieving that goal. When he enrolls in Monsters University, he realizes that his time is now — until he encounters a young Sully, who feels he can float by on his family name and inherent scary looks.
Despite everyone telling him he’s just not scary, Mike persists and soars in his scores. But when classroom antics get him and Sully thrown out of scaring school, the two grudgingly realize they’ll have to work together if they’re to get readmitted.
Their only hope is to take home first prize in the Scaring Games, a campus-wide contest in which fraternities compete to determine, once and for all (at least until next year), who’s the scariest. In order to participate, Mike and Sully join MU’s least popular fraternity, Oozma Kappa.
And since each team must finish together to win — and since Oozma Kappa’s composed of, perhaps, the least scary monsters on campus —Mike and Sully have their work cut out for them.
The film’s wholesome message — if you believe in yourself, you can do anything — isn’t anything new or surprising, but it fits the college comedy mold that “Monsters University” celebrates. And that’s where this comedy thrives.
Director Don Scanlon (“Tracy”), who also wrote the screenplay, keeps the comedy clean for a G audience but fun for all ages, especially those who love their alma mater. Pixar has always exceled when it comes to minutiae, sparing no detail when it comes to creating its brilliantly animated worlds. “Monsters University” is no exception, delivering some of the studio’s best animation to date.
With two of their most memorable characters in Mike and Sully, the filmmakers’ enthusiasm is more than evident, helping make up for the prequel’s (Pixar’s first to date) shortcomings, namely that it lacks the emotional punch of features like “Up” or the “Toy Story” series.
But “Monsters University” is a frighteningly fun time at the movies, and revisiting this magical world and its gleefully ghastly denizens is a pleasure.
The voice acting is spot on, with Crystal and Goodma eating up Scanlon’s dialogue with playful zeal. Helen Mirren (“Gosford Park”) lends her voice to MU’s intimidating dean, while Steve Buscemi (HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”) reprises his role as the dastardly — but not quite yet — Randall Boggs.
A bulk of the laughs come from the brothers of Oozma Kappa, some of whom include Dave Foley (TV’s “The Kids in the Hall”) and Charlie Day (TV’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), but the film’s heart remains with Mike and Sully, making “Monsters University” a class you don’t want to skip.