In 2001 a film was released by Disney and Pixar that would rapidly become one of the most successful films the two studios ever released. ‘Monsters’ Inc’ was, and remains to be one of the most well-loved films (by children and adults alike) and one of the most likely to make you choke on your popcorn from giggling or blubbing too much. Prequel ‘Monsters’ University’ boasts the returning voice talents of Billy Crystal and John Goodman (Mike Wazowski and Sulley) and is set as the twosome and their classmates train to become Scarers; before the two become an infamous pair of pals. There’s a few other familiar faces too as well as some new monstrous faces to meet along the way.
Directed by Dan Scanlon, ‘Monsters’ University’ premiered at London’s own BFI (Southbank) on 5th June 2013 and was released in the US on 21st June. It’s also accompanied by a heart-melting, delicately animated short film ‘The Blue Umbrella’, courtesy of Saschka Unseld, which tells the story of a chance meeting and eventual romance between two umbrellas. It also utilises an innovative sense of personification by highlighting the face-like features of many aspects of New York City- from buildings, to drains and, of course umbrellas.
So before you huff and puff at the thought of yet another spin-off movie, consider how ahead Pixar are compared to other computer animation studios. They’ve got a fantastic eye for detail, and let’s face it- what could be cuter than Mike Wazowski with a retainer brace? The studio’s narrative brilliance transfers incredibly well to the prequel style and tell the story of Mike and Sulley as University freshers- Mike is a keen student willing to do anything to become a great Scarer, whereas Sulley has a well-known family name to live up to and an arrogant attitude to match. Although most of the audience are aware of how the tale must end (due to the plot of the original film), it’s always interesting to see what conflicts, characters and catastrophically comic scenes the writers, directors and studios have dreamed up.
A wonderful sense of eerie authority is delivered by Helen Mirren in the form of the University’s Dean. She really casts a dark shadow over a world of harmless completion and campus activities. After a series of events, our heroes enter the Scare Games but are landed with a less than scary or seemingly capable team. An array of new characters are thrown into the mix in the form of their dysfunctional, unformidable team of down-and-outs, namely Oozma Kappa.
Setting Mike and Sulley against each other as rivals is a classic prequel component, but works effectively in this picture, mainly because of how down-played it is for comic effect. In fact, the vast amount of slapstick humour and one-liners in ‘Monsters’ University’ is astounding and carries audience’s interest whatever their age. There’s also a huge chunk of modern humour that’s sure to make the entire room cackle. Even if younger viewers aren’t aware of the original flick, it stands alone as an amusing rollercoaster ride of innocent college-age fun and friendship.
With Disney and Pixar being as illustrious a match as Mike and Sulley themselves, it’s no wonder they’ve clubbed together to create a realistic style website for the University. It’s designed in precisely the same style as a real university site and includes information about the campus, clubs and societies to join and academic staff. The animation in the film itself is immaculately crafted and incredibly detailed. ‘Monsters University’s’ writers have also complied something rarely found in prequels- perfectly tying the younger and older versions of characters together, especially the idea of Mike never being scary to many of the other monsters.
It’s a fast-paced, feel-good movie that transmits tremendous lessons about the likes of self-belief, trust, determination, hard work and alliances. ‘Monsters’ University’ is just faithful enough to the original film to please long-standing fans, but comical enough to welcome newbies with open arms. It also embraces a strong sense of nostalgia- a component that’s incredibly popular in the film industry and the media world in its entirety currently. But it can be a difficult balance to achieve- that between following a well thought-out formula that’s been proven successful and being inventive and imaginative. The creative team behind this film have hit the nail on the head and blended both admirably.
It’s a 92 minute mash-up of mayhem that showcases the zero-to-hero storyline in a way that hasn’t been done since ‘Hercules’ (1997). Mike Wazowski and Sully are as hilarious, unconventional and entertaining as ever and really bring the fantastic CG animation to life.