Movie sequels are rarely even comparable to the original work – and when discussing the films of Pixar, the bar is set so high the task is nearly unachievable. “Monsters University” is by no means an ineffectual excursion into comedy and wit, but it’s lacking the substantial level of unbridled creativity and emotional punch found in its predecessor. Instead, rambunctious hijinks and parody are the foundation upon which it builds its amusement. Poignancy still permeates the exploration of friendship and overcoming adversity, but the more intricate relationships found within “Monsters, Inc.” are absent. On it’s own, “Monsters University” is a charming romp through hilarious mockeries of college life and the appealing introduction and subsequent camaraderie of two beloved characters, though the shadow of something grander will always loom above it.
Ever since touring the Monsters, Inc. facility as a child, Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) always knew he wanted to grow up to be a professional scarer. As an anxious adolescent ready for college, Mike chooses none other than Monsters University, an academy renowned for its prestigious School of Scares helmed by record-holding frightener Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren). Once there, studious Mike gets a taste of college life while butting heads with the carefree, reckless James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), an egotistical monster who intends on breezing through school relying on his family name rather than hard work. But when both Mike and Sully flunk out of the School of Scares, they find their last chance at redemption in the Scare Games, a series of increasingly challenging competitions that will reveal the school’s most worthy monsters. The only catch is that Mike and Sully are relegated to Oozma Kappa, the university’s most pitiable fraternity. Now, the two rival students must band together, train OK’s members, and prove to everyone that they have what it takes to be the best scarers on campus.
Crafting a prequel might be a seemingly new idea for a Pixar film, but reusing characters previously employed in a prior movie is not. The difficult work and the formative aspects, such as meticulously designing models, environments, and textures, and the highly unique concepts of collecting screams to power a city and using magical door portals to sneak into the human world, have already been accomplished. The setting is established, leaving “Monsters University” to spend its entire time simply molding a new plot and more laughs. On this level, it succeeds admirably, moving at a swift pace and serving up nonstop visual and verbal gags. But now that invention isn’t as demanding, the focus on humor outweighs the typical (and expected) concentration on heart.
This new setup endeavors to parody college life and adolescence (and inherently the likes of “Animal House” and “Old School,” and to a lesser degree, “American Graffiti” and “Carrie”), presenting in animated glory the games, roommates, partying, mascots, rush week, cliques, fraternities/sororities, and even the elitism of family names that proceed the arrival of their offspring, attending their alma mater as wonted. Even the architecture is copied, along with montages, humiliation and bullying as just a part of the school experience, the celebrity status of graduated scarers, and the very idea of an impossibly outmatched bunch of outcasts teaming together in rigorous contests to surprise the perpetually disapproving teachers. Further unexpected laughs are derived from uncommon weirdness (they’re monsters, after all) working its way into the generally family-friendly premise (though some of the scares might be too genuine for younger audiences). In the end, the assiduities to comedy lend to a spectacularly fun, thoroughly entertaining work; and yet expectations are so high for Pixar films that “Monsters University” will undoubtedly take some flak for not insisting upon greater and more frequent heartrending moments.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)