The characters we know and love, Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sulley (voiced by John Goodman), have returned in a "prequel" to the wildly popular "Monsters, Inc." from 2001. One of my all-time favorite animated films, "Monsters, Inc." gave us an insight into the world of human children and the scary monsters that keep them up at night. It also gave us one of the most precious cartoon characters ever drawn, Boo, the little human girl so close to Mike and Sulley's hearts.
Sadly, because this is a prequel, Boo is nowhere to be found, but there are plenty of other delightful new friends to meet. Helmed by first-time Pixar director Dan Scanlon, "MonstersUniversity" provides us with the back story on Mike and Sulley's friendship. As we learn, things weren't always so great between these two lovable monsters.
Ever since he was a little guy --- or at least smaller than he is now --- Mike Wazowski has wanted to be a professional Scarer. His dream is to go to MonstersUniversity, the "Harvard" of his chosen profession. Once admitted, he sets out to be at the top of his class in scaring. But a Scarer "legacy", James P. Sullivan, Sulley, shows up late to class on the first day. He's a natural-born Scarer, one who impresses Professor Knight (voiced by Alfred Molina) immediately.
Things don't go as planned for the Cyclops, and soon, after a fracas with Sulley, they are booted from the prestigious Scare Program by none other than Dean Hardscrabble (voiced by Helen Mirren) herself. In an attempt to get themselves re-admitted, Mike and Sulley must work together with a bunch of "loser" monsters from the Oozma Kappa fraternity to win the coveted Scaring Contest, pitting sororities and fraternities against each other.
The amount of time and effort to produce an animated film of this caliber is astonishing. Hours upon hours of research was expended making Mike, Sulley and even Randy Boggs (voiced by Steve Buscemi), later known as Randall, look college age. Not only did they need to look differently, but the MU campus, along with the dorms and fraternity row, all had to appear authentic.
"MonstersUniversity" is not nearly as laugh-out-loud funny as "Monsters, Inc.", but the story line is endearing and offers a difficult life lesson. Mike, who has always strived to be a professional Scarer, must contemplate alternative career opportunities after his hopes are dashed.
Reuniting Crystal and Goodman is a stroke of genius. They are just SO good together, enough so that they even performed together when filming, usually a no-no for animation. According to Scanlon, they ignite a spark in one another that translates into a chemistry that cannot be denied.
The folks at Pixar are outrageously talented and imaginative, and one of the other perks in seeing "MonstersUniversity" is the animated short that is presented before the feature. This year's offering is "The Blue Umbrella", and, as always, it is clever, sweet and totally charming. It's worth the price of admission alone.
In an early summer landscape bereft of good, solid family entertainment at the movies, "MonstersUniversity" is a great start! Grab your kids and go to college!
Opinion: See It Now!
The monsters are back, you know, those guys who scare little children so their screams can be harnessed for energy to run their city, Monstropolis. Mike Wazowski, the green, wise-cracking Cyclops (voiced by Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan, a.k.a. Sulley, the furry blue giant and top scream-inducer (voiced by John Goodman), star in a new film called "MonstersUniversity".
In this prequel, we witness their trials and tribulations as fraternity brothers battling other campus fraternities, which eventually leads to their status as best buddies. Whereas "Monsters, Inc." featured imaginative characters like Henry J. Waternoose (voiced by the late James Coburn), the multi-legged boss of the scream factory, and Roz, the ever-vigilant CDA (Child Detection Agency) agent (voiced by Bob Peterson --- yes, he is a "he") --- "I'm watching you, Wazowski, always watching!" --- "MonstersUniversity" has its own set of fabulous creations.
Dean Hardscrabble (voice of Helen Mirren) is the no-nonsense head of the School of Scaring, and isn't particularly fond of the nerdy fraternity Oozma Kappa, led by Mike and Sulley. Somehow this underdog group stays competitive in the "Scare Games" held on campus, and they learn to function as a team in their quest. It's the lifeblood of the film, and a good lesson for everybody.
The other Oozma members are Don Carlton (voiced by Joel Murray), an ex-salesman intent on a new career as a Scarer, Terri and Terry Perry, a two-headed Cyclops (voiced by Sean Hayes and Dave Foley), Art, a purple monster that defies description (voiced by Charlie Day) and Scott "Squishy" Squibbles (voiced by Pixar's own Peter Sohn), a five-eyed, soft-hearted sort whose mother provides the housing for the frat boys. Their chief rival in the scare games is the very powerful --- i.e., top Scarers around --- Roar Omega Roar (ROR) fraternity. But don't overlook some pretty scary girls from Python Nu Kappa (PNK), with their all-pink attire, three eyes and mean dispositions.
Special kudos to the team of animators who managed to assimilate a college campus, with all its hustle and bustle of dozens of "students" walking around in a zillion different directions. The overhead shots of the university grounds and all its denizens are a treat.
It's simply good, clean fun, for all ages. With the collaboration of writer/director Dan Scanlon, executive producer John Lasseter, and music by Randy Newman --- nominated an astounding 20 times for an Oscar --- how can "MonstersUniversity" possibly fail? The mega-talents of Crystal and Goodman, plus other voices, by Steve Buscemi, Nathan Fillion, Bobby Moynihan and Alfred Molina, assure the movie's success. And last but not least, the facial expressions attributed to the one-eyed Wazowski (who wears a retainer in college) are clever, lovable, highly amusing, and above all, priceless.
Opinion: See It Now!