With any prequel the perennial question is: why bother? Luckily Pixar’s creative team love the Monsters Inc. characters and explore the essential make-up of your favourite scare-ing team, Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman), during their formative years. Monster University takes you back to the moment in time that Mike and Sulley met and they weren't necessarily fast friends.
Co Writers Robert Baird, Daniel Gleeson and Dan Scanlon do a fantastic job of immersing you back into the Monster world with intent. Inc. was about changing the paradigm of feeding off of fear, rediscovering tenderness and the literal and figurative electricity of comedic joy. University revisits the same world we were introduced to in Inc. but this time it’s a world where the "Scarer." still has a mythic status. It almost feels like a classical approach to Monsters as terrifying. The real heart of University is espousing that success isn’t a sequence of perfectly planned moments without obstacles. It shows that you have to accept your strengths and work tirelessly. This more than any of the other Pixar works feels like it has got some nods to Steve Jobs’ philosophy. However, don’t fear that this is a didactic moral lesson, it’s infused with a story riddled with comedy. The American college film sub-genre is always a great space to put an eclectic ensemble and there’s just so much fun to be had with thses colourful monster misfits that have to overcome their weirdness to get frightening.
Scanlon’s (who also directs) uses the immersive 3D technology to provide wonderful textures to the Monster world. You can almost feel the moisture in the slimy skin, the sharpness of the scales and Sulley’s thick, huggable fur.
Billy Crystal's pitch perfect Broadway presence is felt, even within the spherical confines of Mike. And John Goodman's inherent loveable nature remains perfectly suited to Sulley's light blue, purple spotted, fur mountain. The new additions Helen Mirren, as the scaly, dragon lady Dean Hardscrabble is authoritative and scary. While Nathan Fillion's cocksure smile bursts forth from the ideal frat house Minotaur Johnny.
If there's anything that diminishes the impact of Monsters University, it's that some of the films it loves (Revenge of the Nerds and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) makes some of the beats of the narrative predictable and familiar.
Monsters University is fun, warm, subtly inspirational and proof that prequels can be done right.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.