Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Monsters University

Sully makes a hero out of Mike for a stolen mascot in Monsters University
*** out of **** 

Pixar Animation continues the story of Mike and Sullivan, two characters from another dimension made up of monsters who visit our world in the middle of the night to scare children in order to harness their “scream energy,” which fuels their monster world. In this story, the comical explanation as to why, as little kids, we thought there were monsters in the night, is expanded. Instead of the quirky absurd industry of Monsters Inc., we get to see the academic preparation they must endure to be worthy of the scaring profession.

The last movie had a conclusion that wouldn’t lend itself well to a sequel, so going back in time was the logical choice. Mike, once again voiced by Billy Crystal, arrives at his first day of college, eager and book-smart. After enrolling in the “Scaring Program,” he meets Sullivan, once again voiced by John Goodman. Sullivan is a natural in the trade, refusing to take the academic aspect of it seriously. While Sullivan finds favor and acceptance from the fraternities, Mike finds his from their professor and does everything possible to technically qualify, but is mocked by Sullivan and others for not being scary.

After an act of rivalry results in disaster, the two are disqualified from the program, Mike makes a high-stakes deal with the Dean, voiced by Helen Mirren, to be allowed into the annual “Scare Games,” in order to prove himself worthy of the program. The downside is that he needs a team. With a nerdy group of hopeless characters, Sullivan is his only hope.

So obviously this is a kid’s movie that rests comfortably in the formula of an adult-aimed college comedy. As predictable as the story may be, there’s something refreshing about a normally decadent genre being made sweet and innocent. Thankfully, topical pop-cultural references are mostly absent and the movie’s writing thrives on its fun concept.

Monsters University doesn’t excel, but doesn’t aim to. I only expected a nice comfortably simple story and dazzling eye-candy. I got both. Monsters Inc. was made at a time when Pixar was still wowing audiences with innovations in animation. Audiences were appreciative of their work even when the idea was simple. Like the Toy Story sequels, it’s a surprise that they can revisit an older property and make it new again.

Pixar still has a talent for keeping the most satisfying aspects of animated cinema together. They know how to generate a feel-good tone through consistently pleasant imagery and music, as well as an enthusiastic voice cast.

While Monsters University is a far cry from Pixar’s way overdue need for a fresh and different movie, those seeing it in theaters, shouldn’t arrive late. Their obligatory short film, before the main feature, is a new milestone for the studio. You’ll be amazed that everything on the screen is simulated. Hopefully, Pixar is planning a feature-length project of equal ambition.

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