By Ed Sum
Expectations were low for some long-time PIXAR fans going in to see Monsters University. In fact, they were smaller than the green imp, Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal). He has these grand ambitions to be a Scare-a-lot even though he is better suited to be Care Bears material. The joke is on him when he finally arrives at the prestigious Monsters University. He is there to learn how to be scary and that is one tall order for the most tamest beast to grace this monster-verse.
Even James Sullivan (John Goodman) is more about fluff than flights of fancy as he tries to buffoon his way through college life.
The two make an unlikely pair in this prequel to the hit Monsters Inc. A little more than ten years have literally passed in both universes before a followup (prequel in this case) was made. As for why it took so long to revisit this hit, it was mostly because of disagreements between Disney CEO Michael Eisner and PIXAR maven, Steve Jobs. Maybe there are allusions made in the tale and audiences will not notice. Eisner and Jobs are nothing like Sully scowling at Wazowski. The tale, however, is. Much of the tale deals with unlikely pairings. The PIXAR flavour is inherent in this film, with looks at life and creating important lessons for viewers to take home, but it does not rise beyond there. This product is nothing like their sentimental Up! or can even compare to the first Monsters movie.
But at least the plot development made in this film is important. Viewers get to learn Randall Boggs’s motivation for becoming the antagonist in Monsters Inc. and he was the character to truly pay attention to. Almost like a bitter rival, maybe Randall can be like Malfoy to Wazowski’s young Harry Potter-like innocence. At times, this film has the cinematic grandness of a Harry Potter film with a dose of Animal House style of humour mixed in. If viewers were to compare Dean Hardscrabble’s (Helen Mirren) presence to that of how Alan Rickman played Severus Snape, the similarities are all too obvious.
As a prequel, this film makes for the perfect lead-in to Monsters Inc., but as a standalone product, there’s not much to this film that simply explains how one big eye surrounded by a mound of green flesh and a fluffy blue bear has become bosom buddies. In true comedic fashion, they are fighting for the attention of being accepted into a larger society and just learning how to get a long. The tale is good, action is fun and humour very chuckle-worthy. The better scenes for an older viewer to enjoy is when the tale ventures into haunted house territory. After all, this movie is about monsters scaring humans to power their technology and sustain their society. Without some visit to the human world, Monsters University would feel too contained.
And without Monsters Inc. to continue this team’s adventures, this film does not make the cut on its own merit. After leaving the theatre, some viewers may well want to go home and pop in the 2001 classic to see how these two films complement each other.
3½ Stars out of 5