The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Monsters University

Two years ago, Pixar took a big risk with Cars 2. They plucked the characters out of the original and stuck them not only in a new environment, but also in an entirely different genre. Whereas the first film was a nostalgic tale of Americana, the sequel was a parody of spy movies, set in Europe. It was also a complete disaster – Pixar's first strikeout. Monsters University, a prequel to 2001's Monsters, Inc., takes a very similar approach, but to much greater success. Its central duo, Mike Wazowski and Sully, are young students, and the movie is a parody of college comedies.

After a short prologue showing how one-eyed creature Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) always dreamed of attending Monsters University, we find him arriving for his first day at the college. He intends to major in scaring small children, but the school's no-nonsense leader, Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), thinks he simply isn't cut out for it. To prove her wrong, Mike participates in the “Scare Games,” an annual competition to see which fraternity/sorority can be most terrifying. Since none of the frats want Mike, he starts his own, along with some other outcasts. One them is Sully (John Goodman), with whom he's had a rivalry since the first day. Together, they must learn to work as a team, while also facing a series of grueling challenges in the games.

Monsters University is a pretty shrewd spoof of pictures like Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds. It follows the same formula of outsiders taking on the academic establishment (including the caste system), but in this case, the outsiders are furry, slimy, sticky, blue, and/or multi-headed. They're also among the most lovably adorable supporting players in the entire Pixar canon. The riffs on Greek games provide a lot of opportunities for comedy, and although the film never expressly states it, there is absolutely a subtle suggestion that Hell Week activities and other such rituals are kind of pointless. Mike and associates don't become a brotherhood because they were hazed together; they do it because they develop a genuine mutual respect.

Taking Mike and Sully back to college was a gamble that paid off. Pixar movies are always known for their heart, and Monsters University is no exception. We watch these two rivals slowly forge a bond. Sully is naturally scary, but also one-note in how he does it. (He roars loudly.) Mike, on the other hand, isn't very scary at all, yet he's got a quick mind and an appreciation for the technique. As the story unfolds, the two begin to realize that they compliment one another perfectly. This, in turn, serves as a perfect lead-in to the events of Monsters, Inc. For once, a prequel actually feels like we're getting valuable information about characters we've come to know and love.

Monsters University is beautifully animated, as you'd expect from Pixar. It's also very, very funny and insanely sweet. There's a third act plot twist I didn't see coming, and it is here that the movie really drives home its themes of unity, cooperation, and friendship. What could have been an easy cash-in is instead a film that delivers the goods for kids and adults alike. It's a charmer.

( 1/2 out of four)

Monsters University is rated G. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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