sat 25/05/2019

Monsters University | reviews, news & interviews

Monsters University

Monsters University

A dozen years on, a Pixar prequel goes back to campus to raise fewer screams

Back to school: the stars of Monsters Inc. learn the ropes of terror on campus

It’s practically a pub game for overgrown children: factoring in the technical awesomeness, the solid virtues of the plot, the script’s adult-friendly appurtenances of irony and wit, what in your considered opinion is the best film in the Pixar backlist? It could be any one of the Toy Story trilogy, it could easily be The Incredibles, and there are those who would tick the box marked Monsters Inc.

The last had all of the above and something else – a fully imagined world mixing elements of children’s fable and outlandish sci-fi. It was so perfectly in and of itself there was nowhere else to go for its characters – two monsters working in a factory for generating energy by scaring children in their sleep. Hence, presumably, the lack of a sequel. Instead, a dozen years on, we have a prequel in which Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal), a small one-eyed lime-green pea on legs, and Sulley (John Goodman), a turquoise bear-like hulk of fur with pink spots, learn the ropes of scaring.

The setting is the titular Monsters University, which looks exactly like an Ivy League campus with green swards and pompous architecture. The only difference is the pupils, with their array of limbs and heads and other randomly assembled body parts. In essence, though, this is the story of those eternal student archetypes, the bookworm and the slug-a-bed. Wazowski arrives on the scare programme determined to swot his way to top grades. The problem is he’s not remotely scary. Sulley, who hails from a long line of scarers, thinks he knows it all already. They are soon flung off the course by icy taskmistress Dean Hardscrabble, a sort of flying mutant centipede (Helen Mirren at her most forbidding, pictured above right). Despite mutual antipathy, the odd couple are forced to wager everything on winning a scare competition against other five other fraternities, including a team of proudly jacketed all-American jocks (pictured below) led by a horned walrus called Johnny Worthington III and backed Wazowski’s creepy roommate, the lizard-like Randy (Steve Buscemi).

You know what happens next. All of the tropes of team-building and winning against the odds are ticked off, supplying pleasing setpieces along the way. One round of the competition riffs on the primacy of silence in the library. In another, Wazowski leads his team of freaks and losers on an illicit foray into the Monsters Inc. facility to prove to them that scarers come in all shapes and sizes.

The visual feast laid on is of course beyond reproach – a pass summa cum laude for director Dan Scanlan (who co-wrote the script) and his vast army of animators. Randy Newman’s score is reliably bitter-sweet. And laughs come thick and fast – the masonic initiation rite interrupted by an indulgent mom is a hoot. And yet like many a prequel whose task is to explain the characters’ back story, the whole enterprise feels less ambitious than its predecessor. There was something daringly disturbing about a narrative which fed on the terror of children. Aside from the beginning and the end, Monsters University spends more time in simulated bedrooms than real ones, which depletes the sense of jeopardy. This is softer and squishier and workmanlike, and needn’t trouble the pub debaters about Pixar’s finest hour-and-a-half.

Overleaf: watch the trailer to Monsters University

 

Jasper Rees on Twitter

In essence, this is the story of those eternal student archetypes, the bookworm and slug-a-bed

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters