MRR Review: "Monsters University"

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Set about ten years before the events of Monsters, Inc., 18-year-old James P. "Sulley" Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) and 17-year-old Michael "Mike" Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) meet in college and end up in the same fraternity, just as each is planning to become a "scarer" at Monsters, Inc. The prequel to the 2001 film also explains the relationship between the two main characters, more specifically how they went from one-time rivals to best friends.
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MRR Review: "Monsters University"

-- Rating: G
Length: 110 minutes
Release date: June 21, 2013
Directed by: Dan Scanlon
Genre: Animation/Adventure/Comedy

"Monsters, Inc." introduced people to the monsters that terrorized their imagination as children and made them into lovable characters. "Monsters University" is the prequel where audiences learn how the world's number one scarer and his number one buddy ended up working the scare floor at Monsters Inc. Pixar hasn't been blowing audiences away much lately but, as a prequel, "Monsters University" is a triumph.

"Monsters University" introduces viewers to the young Mike Wazowski. Where "Monsters, Inc." focused more on Sulley, otherwise known as James P. Sullivan or Kitty, the prequel primarily follows his little green sidekick. Mike as a young monster boy was unpopular, the typical nerd with braces and no social skills. After a field trip to Monsters Inc. though, little Mike found his dream job: scarer. Scarers sneak into kids' bedrooms at night, frighten them, and then collect their screams. These screams serve as the energy to power the monster city, Monstropolis.

Mike carries this dream to college. He becomes a scare student and meets Sulley, an arrogant young monster, whose dad was a legendary scarer. Sulley is the popular jock with the famous name while Mike is the out-of-place nerd who knows scare theory better than any student at the School of Scaring but doesn't have a frightening bone in his body. After they both fail a final, they end up in the campus' joke fraternity, Oozma Kappa (OK), trying to earn their way back into MU. The opposites must put aside their differences and get their fraternity brothers into shape to kick butt at the annual Scare Games. If they win, the scary Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) will reinstate the two.

Sulley is once again voiced by John Goodman, and Billy Crystal returns as Mike. The movie relies a lot on things not being as they seem or what the audience expects, the pretty sorority girls who suddenly hiss and reveal glowing red eyes; the old-fogey librarian who turns into a frightening, tentacled giant of terror; and, of course, little Mike himself who seems like he couldn't be scary to save his life and then learns to let his inner scary out.

"Monsters University" has plenty of the stuff that made "Monsters, Inc." a success. There is physical comedy, inspirational moments such as when Mike overcomes his doubts, and many new, cute, and cuddly monsters that keep the tone of the movie light even when the characters are going for terrifying. What the prequel does lack is a human character. There is neither a little girl Boo to connect with the audience nor is there a heartening resolution that is good for humans. Mike and Sully discover in "Monsters, Inc." that children's laughter is more powerful than their screams, which means children no longer have to fear the monsters in their closets or under their beds. Most people who have seen "Monsters, Inc." probably won't be bothered by the fact that all the scare training is for naught, but it is a little sad to see the pair, especially Mike, struggle so hard to train for a job that will shortly become obsolete. This is always the problem with prequels as the audience knows the characters' destinies, but usually a prequel sets up a future triumph while for Mike and Sulley, their time learning to be scarers is actually wasted. But for fans curious how monsters learn to be scarers-you would think monsters are inherently scary-the movie is creative.

The film displays the beautiful colors and the intriguing landscapes that ought to be in any animated movie but sometimes aren't. The voice actors are fantastic. Helen Mirren, Billy Crystal, and John Goodman are entertaining, but John Ratzenberger, Steve Buscemi, Nathan Fillion, and Aubrey Plaza are just some of the recognizable voices that add to the film.

What makes "Monsters University" stand out is that, in a way, it is a typical college movie full of classroom trials, Greek life, difficulties making friends, and finding one's place, but it manages to portray all this without alcohol, sex, and drugs. Adult viewers will relate to the college experience without noticing the lack of the bawdier aspects. Young viewers will be captivated by the journey from awkward youth to college student. "Monsters University" proves to be inspirational to kids with dreams but doesn't force the typical line of "you can be anything you set your mind to" that often leads to later disappointment. No matter how hard he tries, Mike just isn't scary, but he does learn a lot about himself and his actual strengths that ultimately land him a job on the Monsters Inc. scare floor as Sulley's assistant. The lesson of working with what you have and making your own success is possibly the best part of the movie.

Rating: 4 out of 5