Twelve years on from Monsters, Inc., Disney Pixar’s prequel sequel Monsters University winds the clock back to the days when the original film’s monster heroes, Sully and Mike, were far from best friends.
Thankfully, newcomers to the Monsters, Inc. universe (like myself) need not swot up on their pre-film viewing before entering the University, as the opening acts as a quick and easy crash course in all things monster.
A school bus full of children, of all shapes and sizes, are on a school trip to the local energy company – a sort of science and careers event in one.
Inside, veteran “Scarers” enter the custom-made doorways separating the monster world from the human, using their Monster-god given talents to scare human children, whose screams are collected and used to generate enough energy to power the city.
One child – small, green, one-eyed Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) – is sufficiently awed by what he sees to want to work his way through school to reach the ultimate academic pinnacle: an entry into the prestigious Monsters University (a handsome, lusciously lit Ivy League/Oxbridge hybrid).
But only one degree program holds any sway in his heart: the Scarers Program. To become a Scarer at Monsters Inc. requires monsters of the finest mettle, courage, skill and talent; the cream of the monster crop; the fearless monster elite.
But there’s one small problem. Mike just isn’t very scary. And on the long, hard road to scaring success, he has to fend off the unfriendly rivalry of slacker James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), who seems content to ride the coat-tails of his respected family name and good scaring gene stock, whilst the formidable matriarch and scaring legend Dean Hardscrabble (an ice-cold Helen Mirren, playing a sort of creepier, scuttlier McGonagall) casts a withering and watchful eye over the latest batch of scaring hopefuls.
Substitute “scary” for “cool” and you quickly get the idea of what genre is at play here. Adults in the audience will be well-versed with this David vs. Goliath story of Nerds vs. Jocks, where the popularity-challenged underdogs have to overcome their social anxieties and life lived at the chilly fringes of studentdom to emerge with their egos and self-esteem intact.
It’s ultimately an old story, well-trodden, but more than adequately brought to life with a winning mixture of colour, humour and enthusiasm for which Pixar is so renowned.
Monsters University may not reach the dizzying heights of originality of its predecessors Toy Story, Wall-E or Up, but with its endearing melée of misfit monsters and solid central pairing of rivals-turned-allies-turned-friends, it’s a charming and entertaining addition to the Pixar canon.
See it in cinemas this Friday 12 July.
By Alaka Prodhan (@EchoingBronze)