In the opening scenes of Monsters University, Pixar demonstrate they’ve still got that magic ability to play with emotions and tug effortlessly on audience heartstrings. We meet the one-eyed childhood monster, Mike, lonely and desperate for friendship, paired with his teacher on a school outing to Monsters Inc. Here Mike steps through a scare door and witnesses a monster scare first-hand: an event that cements his ambition to become a Scarer - one of the heroic monsters who captures the screams of children to power the monster world. Its an honest preamble with an emotional twinge that’s all the sweeter because we already know and love this irresistible character.
Monsters University takes us back to the formative years of Mike and Sulley as they enrol in the Scare programme at Monsters University. Mike works hard with studious determination while Sulley coasts on his imposing looks, deafening roar and family reputation. It’s not a recipe for an ideal friendship but this crackling rivalry is the least of Mike’s problems as his puny size and friendly voice fail to convince the formidable Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) that he deserves a place in Scare school. Enter the Scare Games as Mike teams up with Sulley and an unlikely group of wannabe Scarers from outcast fraternity house Oozma Kappa in an effort to prove that he has what it takes.
Mike and Sulley, voiced by John Goodman and Billy Crystal, are once more on top form as the script from Daniel Gerson, Robert Baird (both Monsters Inc) and relative newcomer Dan Scanlon (who also directs) packs in the slapstick comedy and hums with grown-up humour. There’s also a great place for chameleon-like Randy (Steve Buscemi) whose shift from impressionable but fairly harmless student to villainous Monsters Inc Scarer is neatly signposted. As we’ve come to expect from Pixar’s greatest movies, Monsters University gives us a bunch of characters full of contradictions and complexities that makes them seem very real. Of all the new additions, mature student Don Carlton (Joel Murray) - a failed sales executive that makes Monsters University freakishly similar to Vince Vaughn’s The Internship - is the most finely drawn.
The messages of Monsters University are diverse, highlighting the value of personality and hard work as well as the expectations and emphasis society places on appearance. Its a wholesome but harsh message and one that Pixar delivers with little show and much subtlety. Ultimately though - as those who’ve seen the original already know - Monsters University doesn’t provide the cliched happy ending that less gutsy studios might cling to. Pixar leaves us with the unpleasant reality that ambition doesn’t always equal success - a message that has even greater resonance for university students in today’s trying economic climate.
Monsters University might lack the jaw-dropping originality of Pixar’s earlier offerings but it doesn’t feel at all hemmed in by its prequel status. Comedy and charm are on par with the Monsters Inc original and Pixar once again deliver an irresistible world packed with interesting, not just adorable, characters.
Paired with an unforgettable Pixar short, The Blue Umbrella - a beautiful work of animation that brings objects to life in true Pixar style, this animated short is tear-inducingly good - Monsters University is a must see movie of the summer.
Running Time: 110 minutes