By Dan Metcalf
Clipper Film Correspondent
Monsters University (Disney/Pixar)
Starring (voices of) Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Charlie Day, Alfred Molina, Tyler Labine, Nathan Fillion, Aubrey Plaza, Bobby Moynihan.
Written by Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson and Dan Scanlon.
Directed by Dan Scanlon.
Being a big fan of Pixar, it's usually a difficult task for them to disappoint me. There are the odd exceptions (Cars, Cars 2), but by and large (Wall-E reference), the folks who almost single-handedly innovated the computer-animated feature film business rarely fail. Some of their sequels have achieved greater critical and financial success than their predecessors (Toy Story 2 and 3, for example). Monsters University is Pixar's first attempt at a prequel (to Monsters, Inc.), and while it may succeed at the box office, it may suffer from some of the same pitfalls experienced by other prequels.
Billy Crystal is back as Mike Wazowski, the ever-enthusiastic single-eyed monster who dreams of becoming a great “scarer,” depsite his diminutive stature and good nature. John Goodman also voices John P. “Sully” Sullivan, the hulking, fun-loving monster who is a natural scarer. The story takes place in the college years preceding the pair's famous exploits at Monsters, Inc.
When Mike and Sully arrive for their freshman year at Monsters University, they do not hit it off, since Mike is all about book smarts and Sully only relies on his gut. Mike fails to get accepted to a decent fraternity, while Sully can't keep his grades up. Both fellas come under the tight scrutiny of Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), and face expellment from the MU School of Scaring. In order to stay in the scaring program, Mike and Sully make a deal with Hardscrabble to win the annual Scare Games. In order to enter the Scare Games, Mike and Sully must join a fraternity, but the only one that will take them is Oozma Kappa, a group of nerdy outcasts.
The boys compete in the games against the other more athletic and socially advanced students, leading to a climactic final event that will decide their fate.
The good news about Monsters University is that it isn't bad. The bad news, it's not quite up to par with its predecessor, nor a majority of other Pixar films. The charm is there, along with a few interesting new characters, but the story is a basic reprint of Revenge of the Nerds, complete with the fraternity/sorority competition between the “haves” and “have-not” nerds.
The biggest problem (despite the Nerds derivation) for Monsters University is the same basic pitfall of other prequels. It's hard to fear any peril placed before Mike and Sully, since you know they are going to be just fine in the future.
So, in a pass/fail scenario, Monsters University gets a passing grade, but barely. If you're grading on a Pixar curve, it's a solid B-.