Monsters Inc is possibly the only Pixar story that leaves room for indulgence. Be that to the original’s advantage or not, Michael Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) find themselves recast as a younger version of themselves in their origins story Monsters University this summer.
Cars screenwriter Dan Scanlon directs our mismatched companions as they earn their places at the legendary monster establishment and join the school’s infamous scare programme, watched under the narrowed eyes of Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren).
The runt of his academic experience, Mike is a class swot, using his social failings as motivation to work tirelessly at becoming a “scarer” despite holding no natural menace. Sully lacks Mike’s intelligence, but, with a ferocious roar and a notorious monster family, still walks into the reputation that Mike craves. Their differences drive them to rivalry, striving to outdo each other until they’re forced to work side by side in the University’s notorious Scare Games.
Not since Finding Nemo has the use of additional characters been so finely used. Mike and Sully’s fraternity brothers of Oozma Kappa are the stuff of weird dreams, with talent like Charlie Day and Sean Hughes bringing warmth to their furry, rubbery, bulbous frames. Various campus bodies and nemesis Johnny (voiced by Nathan Fillion) add to a spectacularly well-devised landscape.
As the games progress, Mike and Sully of course learn that they’re better working together and the beginning of a familiar friendship begins to manifest. As with any Pixar film the narrative is driven by a strong set of values and so as twists and turns unfold there is the feeling of being put through the motions. There is also the question of why Monsters University has come about in the first place. Its predecessor left no burning questions about how our jaunty duo came to be, leaving only speculation that this is a pleasing holiday filler while the studio muster up their next big deal.
Given the mammoth success of Monsters University in the US there’s no doubt that a similar reception will be had over the school holidays, even if its 104 minute running time may provide too much for smaller audiences. Expect a predictably warm and thoughtful tale of friendship and camaraderie and you won’t be disappointed.