Directed by Dan Scanlon. Voices by Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, Charlie Day, Dave Foley, Sean Hayes, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Aubrey Plaza, Julia Sweeney, John Krasinski. (2013, G, 110 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., June 21, 2013
Remember the nifty idea behind Monsters, Inc., wherein the city of Monstropolis was powered by the shrieks of human children, mined by professional monster “scarers”? It put a face on the thing that goes bump in the night – a blue, no-neck giant named Sulley (Goodman) with a head like a fat thumb – and made a hero out of him, too. A dozen years later, the movie hasn’t aged one lick, but this prequel – which jogs back to the college days of future Monsters, Inc. employees Sulley and Mike Wazowski (Crystal) – arrives already stale. There’s no invention here, no bold new strokes, only doodling on the dynamo concept of the first film. As for the actual brush strokes: My Monsters, Inc. Blu-ray renders images more vibrant and tactile than the dim, cruddy 3-D here.
Monsters University follows first-year Scaring School students Sulley and Mike, rivals and a study in contrasts: Sulley is all instinct and letterman charm, while Mike (he’s the diminutive eyeball on stick legs) is book-smart but far from a natural. The script (by Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, and director Dan Scanlon) has a couple of laugh-out-loud moments (Muppet-voiced Charlie Day, as a nerdy wannabe scarer, delivers the biggest howler, even if it fits better on his It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia acid-comedy than in G-rated entertainment), and composer Randy Newman keeps the energy level high with his drumline-heavy score. But mostly this is shrugging stuff – clever but never inspired, dutiful but not possessing any of that ineffable magic of Pixar past.
Pity the kid tagged early as gifted and talented; anything less than exceptional is labeled a fiasco. Would I chide Monsters University for mere competence if Pixar didn’t have that first 15-year stretch of transportive animations on its transcript, before losing its shine with Cars 2 and the better-but-still-underwhelming Brave? Probably not – I mean, it’s not like Monsters University is a bad movie. It’s just not a terribly interesting one.