School is back in session early this year with “Monsters University.” The long-awaited prequel to Disney and Pixar’s “Monsters Inc.” is filled with plenty of laughs and scares to make anyone a fan of the series.
Mike Wazowski always wanted to be a top Scarer at “Monsters Inc.” but didn’t know how to get there. So where does a monster go to learn how to be scary? College of course. Mike and Sully (voiced by the returning Billy Crystal and John Goodman) meet for the first time at “Monsters University,” but are not friends immediately. Mike is the book smart hard worker while Sully is the slacker with a famous name. Eventually the two must learn to work together (in typical buddy cop fashion) so that their fraternity of misfits Oozma Kappa can win the annual “Scare Games” competition.
One of the best things about the film is all of the nods and set-ups to a lot of the events that unfold in “Monsters Inc,” such as where Randall (again, voiced by Steve Buscemi) and Sully’s rivalry starts as well as the origins of Mike and Sully’s warm up routine. It also makes subtle references to “Animal House” and “Revenge of the Nerds,” which is a nice touch for older fans of the College Comedy genre.
Another mark that Pixar and Disney manage to hit is with the new characters they’ve created. Even the background characters are brought to life in a way that only Disney and Pixar can. The voice acting stands out surprisingly not just from the high-energy performances of Goodman, Crystal,and Buscemi, but from Helen Mirren, Charlie Day and Nathan Fillon. Mirren is pretentious and intimidating as Dean Hardscrabble. Day is hilarious and vibrant as the purple fuzz ball Art. Fillon is as arrogant as could be as the horned rival fraternity leader Johnny Worthington. It all works.
The environments of “Monsters University” are fun and whimsical. It looks prestigious, like a Harvard for Monsters. When a child thinks of the school monsters go to, this is what they see in their minds eye. The arenas for the “Scare Games” competition have a lot going on in them. You could watch the movie a hundred times and still not be able to point out everything happening in each shot.
The most important bullet that the “Monsters University” team needed to hit is the drama, which is hit diligently. Upon meeting the outcasts in Oozma Kappa, the viewer will take a liking to each member and feel empathy for their sad story of why no one will hang out with them. They’ll laugh when they do something funny, cringe when they argue and cheer when they succeed. When Worthington’s fraternity ROR (Roar Omega Roar) pull off a dastardly deed the audience feels a tiny ball of anger in their gut. The emotions are brilliant.
Monsters University graduates Magna Cum Laude as far as movies go and lives up to the hype and pressure put on by its predecessor, “Monster’s Inc.” “Monsters University” is well worth the 12-year wait. The story is cliche’, but compelling. The voice acting is superb. The audience can connect with the characters. They cheer who they are supposed to cheer because they want to cheer for them, not because they’re told to – and that may be the most important part of all. “Monsters University” is a film for all ages and just like “Monsters Inc.” was able to do, will stand the test of time for generations to come.