College freshmen Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan (voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman) celebrate a campus prank in “Monsters University.” The movie is a prequel to animation studio Pixar’s 2001 film, “Monsters, Inc.” showing the characters learning their trade in scaring humans.

Walt Disney Studios/courtesy

College freshmen Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan (voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman) celebrate a campus prank in “Monsters University.” The movie is a prequel to animation studio Pixar’s 2001 film, “Monsters, Inc.” showing the characters learning their trade in scaring humans.

Andy Bockelman: ‘Monsters’ prequel gives it the ol’ college try

Advertisement

If you go

“Monsters University,” rated G

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

Running time: 104 minutes

Starring: Starring the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi and Helen Mirren.

Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.

Andy Bockelman

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press. Contact him at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

Find more columns by Bockelman here.

— If you know everything about the theory of painting but have yet to successfully put a brush to a canvas, are you really an artist? Alternately, are you the best quarterback you can be if you’ve never glanced at the playbook?

In the field of scaring, it takes more than just the proper positioning or a hearty growl to do the job right, and you can learn all the skills you need at “Monsters University.”

The early life of monster Mike Wazowski (voice of Billy Crystal) has been in the pursuit of a single goal: getting accepted to prestigious educational institute Monsters University. Now that he’s there, the next step is to become a star student and ultimately step into a career as the greatest scarer of all time.

Only one little problem stands in his way: the unavoidable fact that he’s about as terrifying as a nosebleed.

Although he’s got the subject of scaring down academically, Mike is quickly shown up by fellow freshman James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), the latest in a long lineage of scaring experts, whose natural talent for striking fear into the hearts of human children doesn’t mask his lack of academic ambition. As the two of them get off on the wrong foot, their rivalry only gets worse, escalating until they’re both at risk of getting kicked out of school.

Their only chance at redemption is to win the annual Scare Games, the yearly event that proves who are the Big Monsters on Campus. In order to keep their future intact, Mike and Sulley must put aside their differences and show everyone they’re more than what they seem on the surface.

Crystal’s talent behind the microphone makes Mr. Wazowski one of the funniest Pixar characters and gives him more focus than when we first met him and his blue-furred eventual best friend.

Goodman’s in just as good form as a Sulley who has yet to reach maturity, currently a cocky frat boy who, instead of taking notes in class, just kicks back and uses his pencil to pick his teeth. Who doesn’t love a kid like that sitting next to them when they’re doing coursework that could determine their whole professional life?

As skilled as Sulley is at scaring, he’s got nothing on Abigail Hardscrabble, the stone-faced dean who doesn’t even have to utilize her dragon wings or centipede legs to inspire alarm. All it takes is the acerbic tone of Helen Mirren to make a few well-placed observations that will either build up her students or destroy their egos.

Steve Buscemi makes a nice return as loathsome lizard-man Randall Boggs, who as it turns out is Mike’s first roommate, but some of the best voice work comes in the form of monsters we haven’t seen yet, be they scaly, slimy or any other kind of consistency, particularly within the walls of Mike and Sulley’s new cohorts, the brothers of Oozma Kappa.

The nods to “Animal House” and “Revenge of the Nerds” are abundant, and hints of everything from “The Paper Chase” to “Back to School” fill out the rest of the story in animation studio Pixar’s first attempt at a prequel. Seeing the beginnings of a great partnership like Mike and Sulley is what makes this intriguing considering their start as polar opposites with the same dreams.

Although we know the big guy and his little buddy are destined to make a fine pair, it’s hard not to be on Mike’s side as the two of them squabble over the approach to scaring, though some may be more inclined to root for the talented slacker who’s applauded for every effort than the passionate hard worker who can’t find approval.

After a decade-and-a-half of building itself up as the best of all the cartoon-makers, Pixar hit a plateau. And like films before it, “Monsters” isn’t bad, but it feels like coasting from a studio that once challenged all our conceptions of what was possible from animation and storytelling.

Pairing Crystal and Goodman again is what makes “Monsters University” a thoroughly fun watch, even if it never captures the same sweetness of their first go. Although it’s far from Pixar’s worst, it never escapes the feeling of being a B grade from someone who’s always turned in A-quality work, proving “Toy Story” is the only franchise that gets better with each new chapter.

And with a sequel to “Finding Nemo” on the horizon, that grade point average might only get worse.

Andy Bockelman is a Craig resident, freelance writer and Denver Film Critics Society accredited film fanatic who occasionally reviews movies playing in Northwest Colorado.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.