The DISNEY PIXAR team is at it again with their latest feature film MONSTERS UNIVERSITY directed by relative unknown Dan Scanlon (TRACY). MONSTERS UNIVERSITY serves as a prequel to 2001’s MONSTER’S INC. and tells the tale of how monsters Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan (Sulley) meet during their college years at the world famous Monster’s University where they aspire to become professional scream collectors. One of the twists here that fans may not have expected is that Mike and Sulley were not always the best of friends and MONSTERS UNIVERSITY really delves into their rough and tumble relationship. Entertainment and laughter ensue. Kind of.
While I realize that I am not the target audience for MONSTERS UNIVERSITY, I can (and mostly do) find enjoyment out of these DISNEY PIXAR projects. THE INCREDIBLES and WALL-E quickly come to mind as great experiences both from an animation and story-telling point of view. And while I yearn for the return of completely hand-drawn animated features (ROBIN HOOD, SLEEPING BEAUTY), instead of these computer animated money-makers (CARS, PLANES), I can appreciate the skill and effort involved in crafting such a film. But that’s besides the point. Something I must admit is that while I enjoyed MONSTERS INC. way back when, I never thought a prequel was something fans clamored for. To me, MONSTERS UNIVERSITY is an unnecessary prequel to a barely above average film. I understand that a lot of people may disagree with me on that, but if this much time and effort is going into a sequel, why not make THE INCREDIBLES 2 already! Just saying.
The story here is pretty unique in that it is a college-themed film in the vein of ANIMAL HOUSE and/or REVENGE OF THE NERDS but carries a kid-friendly rating. So while most college movies involve heavy amounts of vulgarity, MONSTERS UNIVERSITY makes everything cool and cute. It was fun seeing what a college party looked like filled with monsters and zero vulgarity. And while it was not something I was extremely interested in knowing, the history of Mike and Sulley’s bromance was kind of entertaining. If I seem a bit unenthusiastic here it’s because MONSTERS UNIVERSITY was fun to look at, and had a few chuckles, but the overall story was a bit mediocre and often too boring for me. I wasn’t really engaged that much and really didn’t invest much in the characters even though it seemed like the writers really tried to get me to care, especially for the problematically cute Mike.
A saving grace for this film however was with the stellar voice cast and top-notch animation. It was a total blast looking at the crowded college landscapes and discovering new and different monsters everywhere. This film is colorful, loud, and a marvel from an animation standpoint. There were no slouches in voice department either. Billy Crystal (CITY SLICKERS) and John Goodman (RAISING ARIZONA) reprise their roles as Mike and Sulley respectively and both do a fine job here. Their bickering and banter back and forth is a highlight for sure. And while it would take years to go over each and every voice cast member, I will say some of the highlights were Steve Buscemi (BOARDWALK EMPIRE) returning as the slimey lizard monster Randy, Hellen Mirren (RED) as the terrifying Dean Hardscrabble, Charlie Day (PACIFIC RIM) as the goofy and eccentric Art, Alfred Molina (SPIDER-MAN 2) as Professor Knight, and Nathan Fillion (FIREFLY) as the perfectly cast preppy Johnny Worthington. There were many many more, but these voices were the stand-outs and really make the whole experience more enjoyable.
When you boil it all down, MONSTERS UNIVERSITY is an extremely fine piece of digital animation with some cool (but often uninspired) character designs complimented by a stellar voice cast. But the mediocre story, not may laughs, and general boredom prevent MONSTERS UNIVERSITY from being anything but a showpiece for great animation and voice work. When I walked out of the theater I had almost already forgot what I just watched. Over time I fear this will be a pretty forgettable experience for most people which is a shame because I really wanted to like this one more than I did. I can’t say that MONSTERS UNIVERSITY was bad, because it wasn’t, but I can’t say it was great or memorable either. The end result is a forgettable film with superb animation and voice talent that has me yearning for a sequel to THE INCREDIBLES.
Final Score: 5.5 out of 10