I am not much of a scarer. I went to college for more comedic reasons. Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), however, went for the former. The two best buds from Pixar’s hilarious and touching Monsters, Inc have returned, albeit in a timey-wimey sort of way, for Monsters University, a prequel showcasing how the dynamic duo first came together.
The story of Wazowski and Sullivan gets off to a rocky start, and the film follows it through the fairly predictable course syllabus of self-discovery 101 with a healthy dose of teamwork thrown in for extracurricular requirements.
Monsters Univeristy does not offer a lot of surprises, save one experienced by Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), and a good chunk of the humor is based on the audience being familiar with the main characters in an omniscient sort of way—it’s funny now because we know how things turn out.
However, that doesn’t mean the jokes don’t work. I laughed loudly during much of the film. Monsters University is very funny.
In addition there are also a number of homages paid to the college comedy genre, with references to Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds, respectively, and they really make the grade. Granted, they won’t be recognized by everyone, but that is the key to Pixar’s success, making films that work on many, many levels.
Unfortunately, Monsters University misses on one—it is somewhat lacking in what Pixar does best: heart. There are moments of sentiment, but they are over too quickly and often feel too forced. The tender moments that Pixar has trained us to wait for come and go before we even realize what is happening. There is no lingering for effect. They don’t leave a tender moment alone. I thought everyone listened to Billy Joel in college.
The art is breathtaking, the humor hits, the characters are fun and relatable, but that special moment wherein the Pixar movies we know and love grab the audience by their collective tear ducts and dare them to hold on… it never happens.
Instead we are given a very enjoyable family film that is full of laughs that will undoubtedly do well at the box office, but left me just a little bit hollow, like getting a B+ in gym class.
Luckily, for those of you that have grown fondly accustomed to those special Pixar moments, they are all packed into the short that precedes Monsters University. The Blue Umbrella is sweet, sad, haunting, and hopeful—all within a few speechless minutes. It is a wonderful piece of filmmaking.
That said, Monsters University is a lot of family fun, and the laughs are deep and often. It passes with flying school colors. Monsters University comes out today on DVD and Blu-ray, and there will be all kinds of extra credit for the whole family to enjoy.