by Bob Garver
June 24, 2013. Even though my love of Pixar is well-documented, 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.” is not one of my favorites. My main problem is that we don’t get enough time to take in the world of Monstropolis before the plot kicks into gear and the intriguing world is turned inside out. It’s not a serious complaint, but it’s enough for me to regard the film as a lesser Pixar entry. “Monsters University” doesn’t suffer from the same problem, but it is a similar slight disappointment if only by ridiculously high Pixar standards.
The film is a prequel to “Monsters, Inc.” that follows blue beast Sully (John Goodman) and one-eyed wiseguy Mike (Billy Crystal) during their days at the title school. Both major in Scaring, but they soon run into difficulties. Sully has a mighty roar, which he thinks is all he needs, so he never bothers to learn the intricacies of the subject. Mike studies very hard and is practically an expert on Scare Theory, but he can never quite put what he learns into practice.
Mike thinks Sully is lazy, and Sully thinks Mike is too high strung. They aren’t friends. Their squabbling earns them the disapproval of Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), who dismisses them from the program. The only way to get back in is to win the school’s annual Scar
e Games, where they’ll have to compete as teammates aligned with Oozma Kappa, the lamest frat on campus.
I think a lot of the energy that went into the film was used on creating the monsters. On this front, the film succeeds. The visuals are top-tier and creative as always. It’s fun to think about the designers coming up with new things to do with features and appendages. The humor works pretty well too. The best gags involve minor monsters and their various talents and afflictions. These gags play to Pixar’s strengths for variety and detail. For this film, they also serve as a distraction from the weak structure of the script.
The film goes through the motions of having Sully and Mike dislike each other, ruin each other, form an uneasy bond, see the bond turn into respect, see the respect turn into friendship, see the friendship fall apart, and come back from the falling out because they’ve learned a lesson about friendship. Aside from the previously-established Sully and Mike, the characters are woefully underdeveloped. Take Art (Charlie Day), a fellow Oozma Kappa. He always has something wacky to say and is clearly intended to be a scene stealer. But we actually learn next to nothing about him and he never has anything to contribute to the group’s activities besides weirdness. The film is also bereft of a proper villain, as the guys from rival fraternities just don’t cut it. I kept waiting for Dean Hardscrabble to unveil some sort of diabolical plan against the university, but it never came.
Then again, I can’t get too mad at the script for “Monsters University” since the dialogue is usually funny and it managed to blindside me with at least two twists (one involves a third character from “Monsters, Inc.”, another comes at the end of the movie leading into the credits). I can’t get too mad at anything about this movie. No, it’s not one of Pixar’s better efforts, but that bar is set so high that decent films like this one can easily fall short. I will say, however, that I think Pixar should keep away from sequels (and prequels) for a while and next time bring us something brand new.
Two and a Half Stars out of Five.
“Monsters University” is rated G. Its running time is 110 minutes.