Since coming out with “Monsters, Inc.” in 2001, Pixar Studios has come a long way. The studio that had already begun to be known for its prestige in beautiful animation and unique storytelling soon rocketed to nearly unanimous critical acclaim. It is partly because of this acclaim that their latest effort, “Monsters University,” is good, but not great. It will certainly satisfy the kids, and even get a few laughs from the adults, but “Monsters University” is not quite the Disney-Pixar gold you may be used to.
The film’s premise starts with Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) going on a field trip to Monsters, Inc. in elementary school. A worker inspires him to be the best scarer ever and he eventually make his way to Monsters University. Mike gets into the prestigious “scare program” at the university and meets his roommate (and future “Monsters, Inc.” villain) Randy Boggs, voiced by Steve Buscemi.
In his first scare class, Mike meets big-shot freshman Sully (John Goodman), whose father was a record scarer back in the day. Before too long, Sully is invited to the biggest fraternity on campus, Roar Omega Roar, led by Johnny (Nathan Fillion). Mike, who is very smart but not quite scary enough, gets left behind. When Mike and Sully get into a fight and are eventually kicked out of the scare program by Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), they must overcome their differences and figure out how to get back in via the annual Scare Games. What ensues is a heartwarming adventure with genuinely funny lines from Goodman and Crystal, who join the loser fraternity, Oozma Kappa (“We’re O.K.!”), in order to compete in the Scare Games.
The theme of learning to see past differences is central in the film, as the jock-types like Sully, the not-frightening-but-witty types like Mike and the rest of the crew of Oozma Kappa must work together to get back into the scare program. Director Dan Scanlon nicely tied this in with the whole college experience presented in the movie, but somewhere along the line could not quite tie it down as a Pixar classic. Though it is primarily a children’s movie, more character development could have served the film better as a whole. For instance, Randall’s character is nearly forgotten after introducing him as Mike’s roommate. With that said, Mike and Sully do share a touching moment near the end that reveals how similar they are in spite of their differences in size and background.
If there is one part of the film that did not fail in any areas, it is most definitely the animation. Monsters University seemed as real as ever, with breathtaking buildings and obvious architectural detail, as well as extremely lifelike and detailed surroundings. As usual, Pixar hides a couple references to previous movies (keep an eye out for the “Toy Story” bouncy ball).
By the end of the film, I left feeling as if I was sold a bit short. Sure, it was a solid effort by Pixar, but it was no “Toy Story,” or even “Monsters, Inc.” Where Pixar could have upped their game to another level, they decided just to settle for a good movie. What is already a movie filled with minor laughs could have had more heart — that is what was truly missing. While the film wasn’t a complete cash-grab for the studio and did have great moments, an opportunity to make a franchise into something great came out as just okay.
Rating: 3.5 stars