Sydney Film Festival – Monsters University review

Monsters University

By Simon Miraudo
June 11, 2013

You can’t go home again, but you can go back to school, and that’s precisely what Pixar have done in Monsters University. They’ve taken characters we’ve long loved and plonked them in the middle of a raucous college comedy. The result is one of the funnier films the studio has ever produced. Once upon a time, however, Pixar could also be relied upon for drawing a tear or two (sometimes by sheer force). They created vast, imaginative universes. This is basically an animated spoof of Animal House. Should anyone find themselves welling up at the end of it, they’re doing it wrong.

If you’ve ever wondered how monsters Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan met – and if you have, I fear you might be writing some very inappropriate slash fiction – the answer comes in director Dan Scanlon’s prequel to 2001’s Monsters Inc (scripted by Scanlon, Daniel Gerson, and Robert L. Baird). A 17-year-old Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal, who has never in his life sounded younger than 45) dreams of being  a professional scarer, though he lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. More specifically, he looks like a giant eyeball on green stalks, and that’s not so frightening for the children whose screams are harvested for energy in Monstropolis. The lumbering Sulley (a warm and welcoming John Goodman), on the other hand, is a natural. It’s at Monsters University where they first cross paths; initially as stubborn adversaries, eager to out-do one another. Their competitiveness gets them kicked out of Scare School by Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren). Hey, there must be plenty of other higher education opportunities for enterprising beasties. Inhuman resources, for instance?

Monsters University

It’s when Mike and Sulley reluctantly team up and join the lame Oozma Kappa fraternity that Monsters University finds its feet, and introduces us to some amusing new characters. I was particularly fond of Don Carlton (Joel Murray), the mature age student looking to make a go of scaring after being made redundant at his previous workplace. OK is also comprised of conjoined twins Terri (Sean Hayes) and Terry (Dave Foley), the world-weary and likely Phish-loving Art (Charlie Day), and the nondescript Squishy (Peter Sohn), whose mother is never too far away. Their only chance of ever getting back into their preferred class is to win the annual Scare Games, sticking it to the bully Johnny Worthington (Nathan Fillion) and the crusty old dean in the process. Cue the training montage!

Despite being robbed of the Best Animated Feature Oscar (by Shrek, lest we forget), the original Monsters, Inc. is one of Pixar’s finest. Crystal and Goodman made for a fantastic double-act, the world they inhabited was rich, the animation was eye-popping, and it starred the endlessly adorable Boo, whose relationship with surrogate father Sulley made the movie a heartfelt parable about adoption. In Monsters University, the double-act remains, and the animation is even more astounding, but there’s no Boo, literally or figuratively. Whatever hefty piece of heart that little girl represents is absent. The flick still paints an affecting portrait of camaraderie between two unlikely friends, yet it doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Any comment it might make about unsatisfied dreams was already dealt with, and executed better, in the predecessor. Composer Randy Newman does return though, and his drumline theme did stick with me as I left the theatre, so that’s something.


Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Monsters University played the Sydney Film Festival. It arrives in Australian cinemas June 20.

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