Monsters, Inc. is a delight. Nothing proves it has stood the test of time more than settling down on a Sunday afternoon to become enthralled and captivated once again by Mike and Sulley’s charming friendship. So it seems strange to think that for Pixar’s latest outing and prequel to their 2001 hit they would ever choose to forsake the memorable friendship in favour of a long, drawn out and sometimes malicious rivalry. Yet that is exactly what they have done, and as we rediscover two of animation’s best-loved characters we begin to realise that Monsters University lacks much of what made its predecessor such a great film.
The film follows Billy Crystal’s Mike as he dreams of working as a scarer at Monsters, Inc. When he enrols as a scare major at Monsters University, he soon crosses paths with the arrogant Sulley (John Goodman) and both become determined to outdo the other and become the best scarer the university has ever seen. Along the way they wind up involved with college fraternities, clubs, a fearsome headmistress voiced by Helen Mirren, and plenty of familiar faces.
Much of the film focuses on Mike and Sulley reluctantly competing at each other’s side in the Scare Games, a kind of varsity event for scaring. This allows for some great Pixar-style comedy and wonderful character moments from the supporting cast, but any opportunity to explore more of the rich world is overshadowed by the fearsome rivalry between Mike and Sulley.
Mike’s determinedness to play by the rules conflicts with Sulley’s laid back and generally douchey attitude, and this conflict threatens to swamp the whole movie. It is only when it is resolved and the iconic Mike/Sulley friendship blossoms that it starts to feel as if we are coming closer to home, but at two thirds into the film it might be a tad too late.
In true Pixar style, the animation is lush, the colours are vibrant and the wit is razor-sharp. Although some of the college culture and fraternity jokes may be lost on younger viewers, the messages of teamwork, honesty and being yourself are combined nicely with a Randy Newman soundtrack to make for a perfect summer holiday outing.
From the studio that brought us WALL-E, Toy Story and Up, Monsters University is worryingly close to average. Yet after the pleasant-but-forgettable Brave, Pixar may finally be on the return to form, and it certainly runs rings around the downright mediocre Cars 2.
It’s just a shame the first thing you’ll want to do after watching Monsters University is dig out your copy of Monsters, Inc.