WHO would have thought a cheery one-eyed testicle and a furry Rorschach slab could be friends, let alone partners in supplying child-oriented night frights?
Monsters University (U)
Director: Dan Scanlon
Running time: 104 minutes
Star rating: * * *
In the Pixar prequel Monsters University, director Dan Scanlon takes us back to the moment when future Monsters, Inc chums Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) first meet at a college which trains young monsters in the art of scaring small children.
In each other’s eyes, Mike is a nerdy fusspot, while Sulley is genetically blessed to succeed at scaring kids but doesn’t bother applying himself. It is hate at first sight, and soon they are the best of enemies.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Monsters, Inc, which conflated a child’s fears of the bogeyman with a working stiff’s fear of production line pressures. As an origins story, Monsters University also cracks wise and warm, but lacks Inc’s inventiveness. Mostly it is a PG version of Animal House or Old School frathouse comedies where misfits try to fit in, and get crushed by snooty student aristocrats and teachers who cannot appreciate – in this case – an eager young eyeball who will do anything to become a good scarer, or a blue and pink bearcat with a good heart.
Helen Mirren provides a Hogwarts flavour as the college headmistress Dean Hardscrabble, a crosspatch blend of a dragon and a cockroach. Under her basilisk gaze, Mike and Sulley are dropped from Scaring 101, and their only hope of getting back in is by joining a fraternity pack of outcasts to compete in the Scaring Games. The winning team automatically gets onto the course.
Mike and Sulley’s team are a crack force of losers, including a multi-eyed mother’s boy, a milquetoast who needs to learn the value of tentacles, and a cheerful extremely mature student. Occasionally, as another joke about dorm life or beery parties rolled past, I wondered if the target audience would find this window on student life more exotic than its panoply of monsters. That’s a question you’ll be better equipped to answer than me, parents. And you’ll have no problem with the do-gooding themes, with lessons about the importance of candour and camaraderie, but also how to cope with failure. Maybe Monsters University has half an eye on preparing the new generation for the disappointments of growing up in a recession.
Monsters University is spirited, fast-paced, with plenty of colour and detail, and a plot arc so predictable you could put it down on train tracks. Pixar is a wonderful studio but it has not had much luck lately, or with follow-up films. There’s nothing here that matches the unexpected inventiveness of Monsters, Inc’s tender love story of Sulley and Boo, a little girl he’s supposed to scare.
The 3D is still annoying because it dulls down the colourscape, but the film handles its big ideas competently, and the supporting voice talent is trusted and yeomanlike.
In short, as summer entertainment it makes the grade. Yet as a Pixar movie, it could try harder. Still, the customary short supporting feature, about brollies fighting the elements and finding love, is well worth the effort of arriving early. n
On general release from Friday