Pixar's first of a few franchising of original properties is out this summer, as we return to the world of Monstropolis and the lives of Mike Wasowski and James Sullivan, only with Monsters University we move back in time, like Huey Lewis & The News, to when they were fresh-faced teenagers, going to higher scareducation to become the monsters that bring fear to a child's bedroom. The only problem in this picture, however, is that Mike is a squishy adorable eyeball, and Sulley is a show-off bid idiot, and neither alone will make great scarers.
Where Monsters, Inc saw Mike as the funny aside to Sulley's story with Boo, Sulley is this time the more aside-d character, as we see almost everything from the eye of Mike.
Opening on sweet school-boy Mike, ever desperate to b the social butterfly he becomes in the future, he's just the weird kid no-one seems to like or remember, but on a field trip to Monsters, Inc, he sees monsters heading to the scare floor, and one particular scarer, "Frightening" Frank McCay (John Krasinski) offers advice of how to make it in the scaring business, and from there Mike keeps going on his school work until he enrolls at Monsters University, where the bulk of the adventure takes place.
Monsters University may miss that crackle and spark of the chemistry and friendly banter between Crystal's Mike and Goodman's Sulley, but opening the universe up a lot more and looking at other characters and a great running joke with Randall in a "How The Leopard Got His Spots" kind of way, makes for a surprisingly heartfelt, honest film about the outsider who may not make his dreams come true, but can make the universe better. A film that teaches kids that even if you reach for the stars, it's not the worst thing if you only grab the atmosphere below.
As Pixar do, the vocal cast for this film is most excellent, returning performers Crystal, Goodman and Buscemi are enjoyable in their redefined roles, whilst OK Fraternity members Dave Foley, Sean Hayes, Joel Murray, Peter Sohn and Charlie Day create some very entertaining voice and characters to watch play out, especially Day's Art, a mostly-leggy member of the fraternity, who is utterly hysterical and will become your new favourite character by the end. Jock jerk Johnny is played by the ultimate brilliant douche Nathan Fillion, whilst Helen Mirren and Alfred Molina as the dean and the scaring professor lend authority and knowledge to their roles.
Alongside the voices, the animation style, the writing, the little details are all on top form with Monsters University, which makes it easily the funniest of Pixar's output since Up, or maybe even WALL-E. Look out for a great motivational poster in Mike's dorm room which calls forward to Monsters, Inc in a subtle but utterly lovely way. Visually, Monsters university is a cartoon, it has no element of pushing forward on the more photo-real style that some of the latter day Pixar films have played with, it's a bouncy, fluffy, crazy, colourful broad affair made for families, and with an originality, a creativity, a sense of child-like wonder and imagination that infects even the stoniest hearted adult in the cinema.
The short film prior to Monsters University, The Blue Umbrella, is a photo-real style romance in the vein of Paperman, which sees a blue umbrella and a red umbrella in a sea of black umbrellas meet, and then be forced away by their owners, only for the world to push them back together. It's astonishing that this film is entirely computer generated given the visuals, the gorgeous textures of a rainy city from the ground up, but beyond the visuals and Jon Brion's lovely music, the narrative is rather deflating and the lack of humour which seems to be a constant with modern Pixar shorts makes it a tedious short to sit through. A real shame.
Monsters University, however, is the opposite of that. With Randy Newman's college-infused drum and marching band score an utter delight in the same way as any Pixar Newman score is (Randy or Thomas), and makes you enjoy sitting through even the end credits, waiting for a killer tag, in a way that so many films forget to do.
Monsters University is a lovely film, an utterly charming, hysterical, enjoyable film that sees Pixar return to a world created previously in a way that makes us look forward to them revisiting other worlds in the same hurricane of excitement, creativity and child-like silliness. Mike and Sulley may not be best friends during this film, but it doesn't stop the film from being any less enjoyable with their rivalry, and the characters they meet along the way. Throw in some really enjoyable set-pieces, great cameos and call-forwards and an honest beating heart and Monsters University graduates with distinction in a less-than-stellar year of animation. Pixar reign supreme, and if you miss enrolling in this fraternity, then you deserve to have your butt paddled. A hugely enjoyable film.