Monsters University (2013)

Rating: C+

Dir: Brett Simmons
Star (voice): John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Helen Mirren, Nathan Fillion

There was almost no way this could possibly live up to the original: it’s not just our favorite Pixar film, or even our favourite animated film, it’s one of our all-time favourites, across all genres. Additionally, prequels are always kinda tricky to write, in that the viewer already knows, more or less, how things will end. So, I was ready for some disappointment. I was not prepared for exactly how mediocre this would turn out to be, or completely lacking in emotional impact. It takes us back to college where Mike (Crystal) and Sully (Goodman) have both enrolled in the scare program, under Dean Hardscrabble (Mirren). Mike has had to claw his way in, while Sully more or less skates by on the bare minimum, coming from a long-respected line of scarers.

Both end up getting thrown out of class, and the only way back in is if their fraternity wins the Scare Games: Mike makes a deal with Hardscrabble to this end, though if they don’t win, he has to leave Monsters U forever. However, the only frat which will have them is Oozma Kappa, a house which is the laughing-stock of campus. Mike has to whip an unlikely team of misfits to compete with the powerhouse which is Roar Omega Roar, and their president, Johnny J. Worthington III (Fillion). As usual with Pixar, you cannot fault this on a technical level: visually, it’s a fully-realized world, and I suspect there are about a billion references that whizz past in the background which will require repeated viewing.

The issue is the characters. To be honest, Mike and, particularly, Sully act like dicks for a large part of the film: the former is a whiny geek, the latter an arrogant frat-boy. Obviously, part of the film’s arc is their character development into the wonderful creatures we saw in the original; however, it still takes too long and is far from smooth. Equally as problematic, the original had helping Boo as an external, altruistic motivation: here, it’s purely selfish ambition that drives their actions (and misplaced ambition at that, in Mike’s case). The net result is a film that looks pretty, is occasionally amusing, when playing with the stereotypes of college culture, yet is largely forgettable and doesn’t have anything like the heart of its predecessor. Sadly, I’m left feeling not exactly filled with anticipation for the upcoming Finding Nemo sequel.