By Gary Murray
Starring the voice talents of John Goodman, Billy Crystal and Steve Buscemi
Written by Robert Baird, Daniel Gerson and Dan Scanion
Directed by Dan Scanion
Running time 110 min
MPAA Rating G
Selig Film Rating Matinee
Monsters, Inc. was one of the best films of 2001. The story is of two monsters that ‘scare because they care’ was the kind of family film that Pixar Animation has been doing for years. It was yet another 100 million dollar hit and proof that the little studio could do no wrong. Since DreamWorks has been making sequels to their hits for years, it makes sense that Pixar would follow suit. The sequel is Monsters University.
The story is a prequel and is of Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) in college. Mike has a single goal in academia, to become a scarer. As a child, he visited the Monsters, Inc factory floor and became enamored with the glory of scaring little kids for the energy. His whole life has been focused on being an elite scarer. But, being so small, he never makes much of an impression.
At school, he meets his roommate Randall (Steve Buscemi) another geeky freshman and the two soon become buddies. Randall has not become the angry slithering bad guy of Monsters, Inc that makes him a monster among monsters.
In class, Mike also meets Mike Sullivan. He is from a family of scarers, famous throughout the monster land. He has all the natural talent but none of the drive. Sulley never studies the theories of scaring, he just goes on instinct. He is more interested in pulling pranks than hitting the books.
Almost instantly, Mike and Sulley bump heads. Mike tries and tries but is just not that scary. Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) knows who has the talent and who does not. She knows that Mike does not measure up in the frightening department.
The plot is set around the first year of Monsters University, with all the academics and social interactions that is college. There is a giant palate of different creatures of every shape and size. Some are much cooler and hipper than others. And the coolest of the cool are all in the same fraternity. Sulley is asked to join and Mike is not. Very soon, both Mike and Sulley find that the world of Monsters University is not that easy. Eventually, they have to join the worst frat on campus.
The entire film builds to a competition between the different fraternities. If anyone has seen such college flicks as Revenge of the Nerds or Real Genius, one knows exactly how this is all going to end. There are few surprises in the script by Robert Baird, Daniel Gerson and Dan Scanion.
The film is gorgeous to look at. The colors jump off the screen and the cast of characters is vast and impressive. Director Dan Scanion is given all the keys to the candy shop and feasts on the contents. The film just explodes off the screen in a palate as wide as the spectrum of the imagination. Visually, this could be the standard-bearer for every animated film in the 21st century.
The only problem with the film is that is does not have a heart. The first film had much fewer jokes but much more character relations. Monsters University flips the idea and is weaker by design. This is a giant joke fest that builds and builds but never connects on an emotional level.
In so many ways Monsters University reminded me of Shrek 2. Both films had more jokes but fewer emotions on the screen. In the end, both were very funny but were not satisfying. It was like eating cotton candy. It may be sweet but it has no nutrition.
The film starts with an animated short about two umbrellas in the rain. While the story is cute, the amazing thing is how realistic the animation has become. If this is all done in the computer, it is the most amazing rain and realistic depiction of a city that has ever been generated for film.
Monsters University is a sequel and like more sequels, it does not measure up to the original. While parts are fun and imaginative, the whole falters on its own weight. The makers should have worked more on the interactions between the characters and less with throwing jokes on the screen.