Before Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) were the at the top of Monsters, Incorporated, they had to earn their qualifications in Scaring at Monsters University… And one another’s respect.
Monsters, Inc earned over $562 at the worldwide box office, so it is hardly surprising that Pixar decided to bring us back into the world of Monsters. There is one blessing, and that the film does not mess with the beautiful ending of Monsters, Inc but it does seem that this prequel is unnecessary, in terms of story, anyway.
Mike and Sulley return; they are definitely one of the great comedy double acts of recent years, and putting them at one another’s throats is a recipe for comedy. Billy Crystal and John Goodman are on great form, and their voice work, as always, is fun, funny and endearingly sensitive. Nathan Fillion plays Johnny Worthington, the head of the biggest frat on campus, Charlie Day plays Art, an enthusiastic purple monster and Helen Mirren brings the scary as Dean Hardscrabble. Pixar always excels at choosing voice actors who are known for their comedy, rather than getting famous voices to put on chewy accents and force the funny, so the casting is definitely a win.
Pitting Mike and Sulley against one another means that we spend most of the film rooting for the underdog – and who doesn’t love a good underdog? – but the trouble is that this means Monsters University turns into an homage to the great frat movies of the past, rather than becoming a great frat movie in it’s own right. Screenwriters Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird and Dan Scanlon put the Monsters spin on the college experience, and a lot of the jokes land, but it feels as though the original shine from Monsters, Inc is missing here. The originality of making monsters scared of humans and our screams powering their cities is what made Monsters, Inc work so well (along with the genius casting), but although Monsters University looks damn good and has a healthy dose of heart and warmth, the quirkiness is missing, and the shine has definitely worn off.
Pixar has gone from producing some of the best animated films of all time to resting on it’s laurels and mining successes of it’s past. This is not to say that Monsters University is not a good film – it is, it’s good – but the spark that made Pixar great seems to have vanished.
In all, Monsters University is a fun and funny take on human antics in a monster world, but this is no more than we expected. The film looks great, has some great jokes and tells the moral filled story we know that Pixar does so well. By mining the past, however, it seems that Pixar has lost the originality we loved them for and, while Monster’s University is vastly superior to some other animated films released this year, it does not live up to the Pixar standard of old. If this is Pixar’s mid period, the fast we get to Pixar Renaissance, the better.