Remember when Pixar were known for original films, or more specifically original ideas? With the exception of Toy Story, which inherently lent itself to sequels, they consistently churned out unique films like Ratatouille, WALL-E and Up, bringing with it a tremendous sense of heart and soul alongside the gorgeous animation, characters and voice-work.
Whether it’s down to looking at the box office numbers for the Toy Story sequels or simply running low on new ideas (I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt and say the former), they’ve already made a sequel to Cars and now a prequel to Monsters Inc (with a sequel to Finding Nemo also in the works).
Monsters Inc. remains a heartfelt and memorable film, containing one of the best premises of any Pixar movie – the monsters under the bed are actually real and their job is to be good at scaring children in order to fuel their own world – and a couple of the most likeable characters in Mike and Sully (voiced by John Goodman and Billy Crystal, respectively).
Ever wonder how the duo got to the point of being best buds working in the factory? That’s what Monsters University is all about, as it takes us first back to Sully’s childhood when a trip to Monsters Inc. feeds his passion for being “a real scarer” before cutting to his arrival at the eponymous school. Before long he meets Mike and through a hijink-laden series of events they ending up facing expulsion from the University by the intimidating Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren). To stop this from happening they must (reluctantly) work together to compete in the Scare Games alongside a fraternity of dysfunctional monsters.
You could look at the central college plot in two ways; either it’s a nostalgic look at that time in someone’s life, with all the little truths and recognisable attributes (some of which will be more known to American audiences), or it’s just a lackadaisical container for cutesy monster related shenanigans. There are times when it sways between both extremes as sometimes the characters and jokes are so clever and funny that the problems with the plot don’t matter and at other times you can almost feel the plot mechanics creaking and turning.
Once again the animation is absolutely beautiful, with the vibrancy of the eclectic collection of monsters really popping off the screen along with some awe-inspiring photo-realistic backgrounds. There’s also some great voice-work from returners Crystal, Goodman and Steve Buscemi, as well as fun turns from Charlie Day, Helen Mirren and Alfred Molina. However, The real strengths of the film lie in the gags, which come at you thick and fast so even if you don’t find one particularly funny there will be another one around the corner to make you giggle. If nothing else it provides a strong entertainment factor even if it doesn’t have that instant classic feeling that Inc so strongly possessed.
Monsters University lacks of the spark originality once found in the Pixar brand before they started down the post-Toy Story franchise sequel/prequel route. However, it fills its conventional college campus plot with genuinely funny gags and creative characters. While it may lack the true heart of the original (a key reason for that may be the lack of little girl Boo) it still makes for an enjoyable, if not entirely substantial, watch that at the very least gets by on the affection we have for these characters and this world.
Monsters Inc. is released in cinemas on July 12th.