Monsters University is indebted to Animal House, in its depiction of a group of outcasts and losers pulling together to achieve something. It is also indebted to sports movies like Mighty Ducks. You know, those ones where a team of losers pull together to achieve something. So it’s not as original as we’d like, but does this mean it isn’t fun? That it has nothing worth saying? Of course not.
Via the endearing medium of Mike Wazowski, Monsters University concludes with the familiar message of working together bringing the greatest joy and achievements, but also emphasises the sheer amount of hard work necessary to get yourself to where you want to be.
After a school trip to Monsters Inc. Mike sets his sights on attending Monsters University in order to graduate and become a Scarer. It is here that he meets James P. Sullivan, a monster seemingly coasting through life on his father’s name. The ensuing enmity between the two is set up in a chase sequence involving a stolen pig. More storytelling groundwork in movies should feature chase sequences involving a stolen pig.
While the foundation-laying is pleasant, it isn’t until the Scare Games – an event where teams have to compete in a series of Scarer-themed challenges – that the movie really kicks into gear. Tasked with winning the competition in order to prove themselves by Helen Mirren’s impassive Dean Hardscrabble, Mike and Sully require the assistance of Oozma Kappa House; its membership is comprised entirely of cast-offs and unpopular students.
While it is here that the film is at its most derivative, it’s also at its most fun. Oozma Kappa are populated by endearing schlubs and oddballs (with Charlie Day’s Art scoring the best lines), and their bonding isn’t overplayed or schmaltzy. Plus, Mastodon crop up in a film scored by Randy Newman.
Where the film is at its best, though, are the serious scenes that make Mike and Sully into a team. Both characters open up, and work together to overcome insurmountable odds. It’s just that, in this case, this doesn’t involve winning a hockey game. Instead the monsters have to scare people witless. It’s a nice subversion, and has fun with movie tropes, but for all the cleverness of that scene’s construction nothing can compare with Billy Crystal’s delivery of Mike’s rant about broken dreams.
(The voice acting is excellent, incidentally. In many cases isn’t until you read the cast list that you think ‘Really? Nathan Fillion?’)
The number of obstacles overcome, the way setbacks become life lessons, and what we know of the characters from the original; everything comes together for a feel-good lesson that feels very Pixar. Someone genuinely left the cinema saying: ‘You know what? I’ve learned something today.’
Released in UK cinemas on Friday 12 July 2013.