For 15 years, Pixar Animation Studios could do little wrong. Every film it released was a critical and box office success that appealed almost as much to adults as to children. Then came several weaker entries in Cars 2 and Brave, leading many to wonder if Pixar was starting to lose its Midas touch. Monsters University proves to be a welcome return to Pixar’s cinematic gold standard.
This prequel to Monsters, Inc. relates the very affecting, funny, and entertaining tale of how lovable monsters Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and John P. Sullivan (John Goodman) become best friends. Meeting at the titular Monsters University, where both plan to attain a degree in scaring, the hardworking, bookwormish Mike clashes with slacker Sully, who hopes to coast through school on natural talent alone. The ensuing feud between the polar opposites eventually forces them into a situation where they need to work together in order to graduate.
Director Dan Scanlon and fellow screenwriters Daniel Gerson and Robert L. Baird have a lot of fun with the film’s college setting, including a hilarious fraternity initiation scene (G-rated of course, as is the film), a rival school’s stolen mascot, and inspired tidbits like the highly caffeinated monster with multiple arms holding multiple cups of coffee.
Even more impressive is the thoughtful attention the film gives to the importance of hard work, resilience, and accountability, continuing Pixar’s pattern of imparting valuable life lessons through exceptional stories with humor that doesn’t typically rely on bodily functions.
As good an introduction, if not better, to Mike and Sully as Monsters, Inc., Monsters University stands firmly on its own two green and skinny (or furry) feet.
Moviegoers will also enjoy the delightful short film The Blue Umbrella, appearing before the feature. Using a new style of photo-realistic animation, this short echoes the charm of the old children’s classic The Red Balloon, as well as last year’s Oscar-winning short, Paperman, to tell the story of a blue umbrella’s chance meeting with a lovely red umbrella and his efforts to find his way back to her.