The animation studio behind the Toy Stories, Ratatouille, Wall E. and Up has so consistently delivered wonderful, ground-breaking and, in some cases, heart-breaking entertainment that expectations are always high for each new release.
Monsters University is a fun, lighthearted and amiable comedy that should delight young children whether or not they are familiar with the 2001 original, the terrific Monster Inc, but it’s not going to make grown men cry (a la Toy Story 3) and it doesn’t push the boundaries of storytelling.
Re-introducing characters and a world already established in a previous picture it has the aura of the studio playing it safe, reflected in a rather slight and formulaic tale that rarely surprises or generates much tension. It’s more situational comedy than grand adventure.
A prequel rather than a sequel, it is in essence a “campus comedy” (minus the nudity, foul language and substance abuse) about the student days of Mike Wazowski, the talkative one-eyed green blob, and his bear-like sidekick Sulley; once again voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman.
In Monsters Inc they are best pals working as a team to “scare” young children even though, in a lovely counter-intuitive touch, monsters are actually frightened of children believing them “extremely toxic”.
However, the shrieks and yelps of little ‘uns are required to power the monster world (“scream energy” they call it) and the soft-hearted Sulley is a champion scarer with an almighty roar, the diminutive Mike his coach who works behind the scenes.
So how did this misfit pair, two of the most endearing characters in the Pixar canon, become friends? That’s what Monsters University sets out to show, touching on some deep-ish themes about identity and ambition along the way.
Mike is determined to become “the greatest scarer ever” after an epiphany during a school trip to Monsters Inc, the power plant where the scarers ply their trade by crossing over into children’s bedrooms. As witnessed in an amusing prologue the pea-shaped Mike glimpses his future - and it’s glorious.
Is he a self-starter or just self-deluded? That’s the question explored when, years later, Mike arrives for his first day at Monsters University, or MU, and despite all evidence to the contrary (he’s teeny-weeny and very cute, unlike his peers) he persists in his belief that he can make it.
MU is “the best scare school there is” and eager-beaver Mike is determined not to waste the opportunity unlike cocky peer Sulley who saunters into class late exuding the entitled air of a born scarer. What does he need to learn? He’s a big guy with a ferocious roar. What’s more, he’s the “son of Bill Sulley”, one of MU’s most famous alumnus.
It’s a nice, clever reinvention of familiar characters, paving the way for some campus fun and a sweet story that keeps the pair’s relationship front and centre, even if it feels a little rote at times.