Directed by Dan Scanlon
Featuring the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi, Nathan Fillion
“Monsters University” is not the most original Pixar film, and that’s not just because it’s a prequel to the blockbuster charmer “Monsters, Inc.”
The film borrows its general plotline from a variety of nerd-do-well movies, most notably the likes of “Revenge of the Nerds,” where the folks on the lower rungs of the social ladder have to compete against the popular kids in a showdown in which the nerds just don’t seem like they have even the slightest chance of winning. Well, this is a prequel. You know they come out ahead.
The film starts with the small, green, one-eyed monster runt named Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) as our lead. As a youngster, he’s smitten by the idea of being a Scarer — if you’ll remember back to the first movie, Scarers are the monsters who go into kids’ rooms and scare them for scream energy — while on a field trip to Monsters, Inc. Mike spends his formative years overachieving and learning everything he can about scaring and, despite his tiny physique, he lands a spot in the elite Scarer program at Monsters U.
Meanwhile, there is a hotshot new frosh on campus from a revered family of Scarers: James P. “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman). He’s got the look, but he’s a one-trick monster, lacking the knowledge to be a well-balanced Scarer, kind of like a baseball pitcher who can hit 100 mph, but can only throw a fastball down the middle. You’ll get a strike sometimes, but pretty often the ball is gonna get hit a long way.
In this prequel, Mike and Sulley aren’t yet the BFFs they’ll become in “Monsters, Inc.”
With their shortcomings, the two initially are rivals and are soon booted out of the Scarer program. Their only chance of getting back in is winning a big scaring competition. Problem is, they have to work together and they’re in the misfit fraternity.
You know what’s going to happen here, but the results are rarely why Pixar films are magical. It’s the exquisite, animated ride you get to take, and “Monsters University” is wonderful. It’s not the cute film the first was — there aren’t many snuggly baby scenes — but it is a smartly crafted version of a familiar theme, with great laughs, beautifully animated sequences and even a few chills.
Have no fear enrolling in “Monsters University.”