“I’ve been waiting for this my whole life! I’m gonna be a scarer!” exclaims Mike Wazowski.
Having seen 2001’s Monsters, Inc. this past January in 3D at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, I was curious how its prequel Monsters University would work in terms of telling a new story with characters we’re already familiar with (but with the new story taking place PRIOR to the events of the first film). At the NATO NY conference this past May, the Disney reps showed two clips from Monsters University (which made everyone want to see it even more). The last new Pixar release I saw on the big screen was 2010’s Toy Story 3 (I missed out on last year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar winner Brave and intentionally skipped Cars 2 the year before). Thankfully, I managed to find the time to catch Monsters University during my trip to Georgia back in late July.
Monsters University starts off with little Mike Wazowski on a field trip with his class at Monsters, Inc., where he has a life-changing experience that makes him determined to study as hard as he can so that he can one day attend Monsters University and ultimately become a famous scarer (in spite of his small size and non-scary appearance). Years later, Mike arrives at Monsters University and meets his roommate Randall, another scaring major. Mike soon crosses paths with James “Sulley” Sullivan, another scaring major who comes from a long line of famous scarers. A rivalry forms between them, which results in them getting kicked out of the scaring program. The only shot they have for getting back in is to win the Scare Games, so they reluctantly team up with an unlikely fraternity and have to learn to work together if they hope to win.
Pixar assembled a terrific voice cast for this film: Returning voices include Billy Crystal as Mike, John Goodman as Sulley, Steve Buscemi as Randall, Bob Peterson as Roz, and John Ratzenberger as the Abominable Snowman. Bonnie Hunt, who voiced Ms. Flint in Monsters, Inc., voices Mrs. Graves in this film. New additions include Joel Murray as Don Carlton, Sean Hayes as Teri Perry, Dave Foley as Terry Perry, Charlie Day as Art, Helen Mirren as Dean Hardscrabble, Alfred Molina as Professor Knight, Nathan Fillion as Johnny, Aubrey Plaza as Claire, Tyler Labine as Brock, John Krasinski as “Frightening” Frank, Bill Hader as the Referee, Bobby Moynihan as Chet, Julia Sweeney as Sherri Squibbles, and Beth Behrs as Carrie.
The animation is extremely well done. The quality of Pixar’s animation continues to impress as characters and settings display deep texture and detail. The cinematography was terrific as well. I especially liked the lighting in the classroom scenes as well as the night time scenes (the Scare Games, the sneaking around Monsters, Inc., etc.). The screenplay by Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird, and director Dan Scanlon excels, offering newcomers a chance to be introduced to the world of Monsters, Inc. without them having to have seen that film while offering long-time fans an engaging origin story for characters they’ve come to love (it not only offers new insight to already established characters such as Mike and Sulley, but it even gives us the genesis of Randall’s vendetta against Sulley). Randy Newman returns and delivers a charming and effective score. Director Scanlon has put together a fine film, one that may find itself rewarded at the Oscars next year.