Saturday 16 December 2017

Monsters don't quite make the Inc grade

University: The Monsters study scaring
University: The Monsters study scaring

Paul Whitington

Film Review: Monsters University (G, general release, 104 minutes) 3 STARS

Director: Dan Scanlon Stars: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren

Maybe there are better Pixar films that Monsters Inc., but none more charming.

That delightful 2001 animation was built on the brilliant premise that monsters in a parallel universe use the screams of frightened children to power their entire city. John Goodman's James 'Sulley' Sullivan was a champion scarer, while Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) was his wise-cracking one-eyed assistant, and together they faced chaos as a supposedly toxic human child escaped into Monstropolis and unleashed havoc.

Monsters Inc. was so perfectly formed and executed in every respect that it would be hard to imagine a sequel, so instead Pixar have opted for this prequel, in which a young Mike Wazowski goes to Monsters University with high hopes of graduating as a scarer. Mike works hard but faces numerous obstacles, not least the fact that he's not a natural born terror: he's small, rotund, one-eyed and not in the least bit frightening.

Mike particularly dislikes James Sullivan, a large and brightly coloured monster who's the smug and privileged son of a champion scarer. When the pair become embroiled in an unseemly classroom rivalry, they end up getting thrown off the course, and must join forces and win a competition if they're to stand any chance of graduating as scarers.

Monsters University is funny, charming and classily animated and would seem a terrific little summer film were it the prequel to any other film. But it lacks the originality and emotional depth of its predecessor, and some of the surrounding characters seem watery.

Helen Mirren's frosty Dean Abigail Hardscrabble doesn't quite work, and when Jennifer Tilly's hilariously voiced gorgon Celia Mae makes a brief appearance late on, it only reminds you how special Monsters Inc. was.

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