Review: ‘Monsters University’ (the prequel you didn’t demand)

Unable to move forward, Monsters, Inc. scares up the past for fun and profit.

After a Monstropolis field trip, Little Mike (voice of Billy Crystal) decides to dedicate his life to pursuing a career in scaring. At Monsters University, he finds his academic discipline placed in direct competition with Sullivan (voice of John Goodman), a monster who gets by on natural talent and who does as little else as possible. When circumstances threaten to oust them both from the Scare Program, a bet with Dean Hardscrabble (voice of Helen Mirren) can get them back in, but only if they can whip a team of the least-frightening monsters of all time into a force for fear.

Remember when Pixar deserved to win the Oscar for Best Picture every year? Since merging with Disney studios, the films are beginning to feel hit and miss. It used to be there was Pixar and everyone else, but the newer stories, while entertaining, seem less special. Is it because everyone else has stepped up or because Pixar prefer to play it safe? Monsters University is entertaining but seems content to coast on exactly what’s expected of it until the very end. Remember the way it felt to finally watch Ghostbusters 2 after seeing the original film a hundred times? That.

The premise is sound, but it all feels forced. There’s also a very Hans Christian Anderson vibe of “don’t try to be something you’re not,” but at least it’s tempered with a “find your place” lesson in life. As a spoof of college competition flicks, the film features the Scare Games along with related shenanigans, but the pacing is all over the place in the same way that made Hotel Transylvania tough to follow at times. To the film’s credit, Helen Mirren’s Dean Hardscrabble steal scenes with an amazing transference of her stage presence into an animated character, while a clever twist at the end makes for a satisfying climax before the montage ending. Hey, it’s not like you didn’t know how it was all going to wind up, right?

Steve Buscemi returns to voice bad-guy-in-the-making Randy while Nathan Fillion channels his vocal Captain Hammer into preppy Johnny Worthington. There’s a feeling throughout the film that, while everyone’s doing their job to make the best movie they can, no one’s heart is really in it, like the first vibe that the trailers for Cars put off. It seems like for every film like The Incredibles, Up, and Ratatouille they make, we’re required to endure a film like Cars, Wall-E (don’t get me started on that), or most recently the forgettable Brave. Maybe it’s too much to hope every sequel has the impact of Toy Story 3, but it’s really starting to feel like Pixar is phoning in every other movie to work on the ones they really want to do.

(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)


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