Out of all the Pixar films, the one that I most wanted to see a sequel to was Monsters Inc. I've always been interested in seeing the implications of Sully and Boo reuniting and how all the changes to the monster world have been accepted on a larger scale. I didn't expect a prequel with Mike and Sully meeting at uni though but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that a lot of comedic potential could be wrung out from that premise, plus the timing of this film couldn't be more perfect for me since I'm going to uni this year. So how was the film? Pretty good overall.
The plot of this film is incredibly simple, mainly being a send-up of the traditional uni movie. What I like about the plot though is that the focus is more on Mike and his character development along with setting up the friendship between Mike and Sully that feels like a really natural way for a friendship like this to grow. There is also a great message behind the film of embracing who you are instead of trying to be something you're not, which forms the basis for Mike's character arc along with the development for all the characters in Oozma Kapa. There is also some fun to be had from seeing how the rivalry between Sully and Randall started out, the different classes taught at Monsters University and the personalities of all the Oozma Kapa members, most notably Don Carlton, reflecting the trend of adults going back to uni to get late-in-life degrees. I also like how the film talks about working for what you want vs. just doing it naturally. Throughout the film, Mike and the Oozma Kapa team do really well because they work hard whilst Sully constantly cocks up by relying on his natural ability and when he starts to work hard, he gets a lot better, with all of this providing some great character development for Sully. If there is a problem with the plot it's how it connects to Monsters Inc, not in terms of characters but it the world. Monsters Inc goes out of its way to show how all the propaganda for screams and against children are lies in a not-very-subtle takedown of the oil industry but the main hook of Monsters University is rooting for Mike and Sully to do well in a program that we already know to be corrupt which also removes a lot of tension from the end of the film.
In terms of the film's humour, I have to say that I didn't find it all that funny. Don't get me wrong, there are some great comedic scenes in the film, mainly in the first and third act but the second act gets a bit bogged down in doing the cliche misfits joining together plot of every single college film. That said, when it all comes together in the final act, the film gets really funny and imaginative really fast. In particular, there's a scene at the end of the film that is one of the best executed set-pieces in a Pixar film, possibly rivaling the door chase from the end of Monsters Inc in terms of imagination.
The cast in the film is excellent as well. Billy Crystal and John Goodman are just as good as they were in the first film as Mike and Sully, with the chemistry between the actors being better in this film because of the change from rivals to friends. The standout of them though is Crystal, who gets all the best lines in the film and has a lot of fun in the role. Steve Buscemi also gets some really good stuff as Randall, although I really wish he had a lot more to do. Of the new cast members, Charlie Day, Sean Hayes, Alfred Molina, Peter Sohn and Dave Foley are fun, the pairing up of Aubrey Plaza and Tyler Labine is just funny on it's own but the two work off each other really well, Nathan Fillion is a lot of fun as a really egotistical jerk, basically like every other Nathan Fillion character, Helen Mirren is perfectly cast as Dean Hardscrabble, being really imposing through a brilliant mix of voice and design. The standout though is Joel Murray as Don, his voice fits really well with his character, an unemployed salesman going for a late-in-life degree and he's just so likable in the part and it's just funny for me comparing his really nice, naive and overly optimistic performance in this film with his previous performance in God Bless America, a deeply cynical, bitter character, the polar opposite of his character in this.
Overall, I found Monsters University was pretty good. What the film lacks in humour it makes up for in imagination, character development and a top-notch cast. It may not be the best Pixar has to offer but it shows that Pixar is still the top of the class for characters.
My Rating: 3.5/5
By the way, I want to give my brief thoughts on The Blue Umbrella, the short before the film. It's one of the most charming things Pixar has made. The blending of live action and animation is flawless and the absence of dialogue really adds to the emotional weight of the short. Really looking forward to seeing what Saschka Unseid does next at Pixar.