Movie review: Back to school with 'Monsters University'

This film publicity image released by Disney-Pixar shows a scene from "Monsters University." (AP Photo/Disney-Pixar)

“Monsters University”


Pixar Animation Studios

1 hour, 44 minutes

When “Monsters Inc.” came out in 2001, I remember being slightly underwhelmed. It was fun, but “Toy Story” had been such a revelation that Pixar’s latest seemed a little silly by comparison.

Upon further reflection, I find it one of the most imaginative and most enjoyable of the Pixar films. John Goodman and Billy Crystal do a spectacular job of bringing their digital characters to life, and the story is as clever and heartwarming as any from this vaunted animation studio. At age 3, my son learned how to work the DVD player on his own using our copy of “Monsters Inc.” as his test film. I don’t know if it is repeated viewings that has made me enjoy it more or the overall quality of the film itself, but regardless, “Monsters” is one that has risen in my estimation over the years.

That said, “Monsters Inc.” would not have been the film I would’ve chosen for a Part Two. That honor would have gone to “The Incredibles,” a stellar film that is constantly rumored to have a sequel in the works, but nothing has come down the pipe yet. Luckily the film that did come down the pipe is a heck of a lot of fun. Not only is “Monsters University” one of the most enjoyable kids films I’ve seen this year, but it’s also one of the gentlest.

“Monsters University” is not so much a sequel as a prequel, but rather than spending a lot of time trying to get kids caught up on the timeline or remind them who is who, the film behaves as if it were a standalone entry — a wise choice, I my opinion. Our heroes consist of a couple of unique and incredibly charismatic monsters, only two in a world that includes such an amazing variety of creatures, undreamt of even in the most fertile imagination.

The shorter of the two, Mike, a giant green horned eyeball with legs, once again voiced by Billy Crystal, dreams of being a scarer, the equivalent of being a professional ballplayer in the monster world. Scarers, through an elaborate system of teleportation and kid’s closet doors, provide energy for the monster world via the screams of children. As a young monster, Mike works hard, gets good grades, and eventually find himself on the doorstep of one of the greatest scare colleges there is, Monsters University.

Enter Sully, a tall blue furry bearlike monster voiced by John Goodman, who is blessed not only with the natural ability to scare but with a famous name to boot. Sully’s dad is “that” Sullivan, a famous scarer and university legend. Where Mike has all the technical knowledge in the world, his inate cuteness keeps him from being scary. And while Sully, all bravado and confidence, could scare the wings off a vampire bat, it takes more than just a good roar to become expert at such complicated and intricate work as scaring. It doesn’t take a college education to see that these to rivals are going to have to learn to work together. I hear a Randy Newman song coming on.

While Pixar movies are not known for being particularly dark or gruesome, one of the things I really liked about “Monsters University” was how light It was. Though fun and lighthearted, often the stakes in these movies are awfully high. Take the original “Monsters Inc.,” for example. By the end of the movie Mike and Sully were defying death at every turn.

By contrast the greatest risk in “Monsters University” is the threat of not graduating. This time around Mike and Sully are joined by a typically eccentric group of characters, including at least one repeat from the original film, that of Randall the chameleon voiced by Steve Buscemi. All of the voice work is top notch and the animation, per Pixar’s usual standards, is excellent.

But as is usually the case with one of these films, it’s the writing that really shines. Somehow the screenwriters have managed to capture nearly all of the fun of “Animal House” while maintaining a deserved G rating.

Yes, it’s a little silly and lightweight, and no the original film didn’t call for a sequel, but so what? “Monsters University” is great fun and now my kids can look forward to their future favorite DVD.

Grade: A-

“Monsters University” is rated G — good for the whole family.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphi designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.


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