Disney and Pixar always make great trailers. I’d seen a trailer for Monsters University a while back but if I’m honest, I was thinking “looks stunning, bound to be funny, plot seems a bit safe”. Monsters University looked like being a US-centric jock-fest about frats and Omega Gamma Something-or-other. Well, in part, it is. But I have to say, I knew the movie would be good, but it’s several orders of magnitude better than the trailer! Phew!
So what’s it all about? Well, like all Disney Pixar movies, the outline is very simple but the detail is what really shines. The basic plot follows the journey of Michael “Mike” Wazowski (aka the green one, voiced by Billy Crystal) and visits the back story to the previous movie, Monsters Inc. As a young kindergarten monster, Mike visits the famous Monsters Inc facility on a school trip. Monsters Inc is a facility where monsters are transported to kids’ bedrooms at night to harvest screams, which in turn are used to power the monster world. Little Mike is definitely the runt of the class and after seeing his monster heroes in action, decides there and then his destiny is to work at Monsters Inc and become the greatest scarer of all time. That’ll show them!
Sure enough, his first day arrives and we’re treated to a visual feast as we tour the college campus, meet many of Mike’s fellow students and his freshman term begins.
It’s at this point we meet Sulley (voiced by John Goodman) for the first time. Sulley and Mike don’t exactly hit it off. Sulley is the jock, the son of a previous head scarer who is clearly destined to breeze through Monsters University without even trying.
Only there’s a catch. The scary headmistress Dean Hardscrabble (brilliantly voiced by Helen Mirren) makes it clear that if you don’t impress after the mid-term exams, you’re out. And sure enough (for reasons I won’t spoil), both Mike and Sulley find themselves on their way out.
Their last hope is to impress Dean Hardscrabble by winning the university’s Scare Games and the rivals are forced into an unlikely partnership. The Scare Games are pretty much the Tri-wizard Cup from Harry Potter, lots of nerve-wracking challenges with teams being eliminated after each event. By hook or by crook, Mike and Sulley, along with their enthusiastic but ultimately hopeless ‘Oozma Kappa’ frat brothers make it to the final.
At this point, I’ll stop the plot walkthrough as you get the gist of it. They win, they get their places back… we leave off where Monsters Inc began, right? Well, no, not quite. Just when I was giving it a solid 8 out of 10 in my head, “stunning, proper funny, plot was a bit safe”… Disney Pixar pressed the genius button. The twist in the story was brilliant. Again, I won’t reveal it but suffice to say it was a clever side-plot that added those extra 2 points to my in-head rating system! I loved it!
The movie is of course packed with those signature Disney Pixar elements. Amazing characters, stunning visual effects, slapstick for the kids, laugh-out-loud in jokes for us grown-ups (the dance floor scene will definitely have you giggling) and oozing quality that very few others have ever got near, let alone matched. As ever, I want to see it again to soak up all the things I missed the first time I watched it.
As a parent, I should also address the elephant in the room (or is it a monster?). Yes, Monsters Inc wasn’t always straight-forward family viewing. It had monsters. It had roars. It had loud stuff. In fact, I only had the opportunity to take my two kids (aged 9 and 12) to this screening because Janis’ younger much ones weren’t sure if they were up for it. The occasional post-scare-scene wailing in the packed Empire cinema on Leicester Square was proof that it still has that effect on a few of the more sensitive souls.
But really, I wouldn’t worry. The ‘scaring’ is very much framed in the context of the story, where loved characters are trying their hardest to ‘pretend’ to be scary. There’s also an element of Monsters Inc (and University) actively helping to tackle the ‘monsters in the wardrobe’ worries young children may have. I think it did a great job of being sensitive to this, yet retailing the drama needed to keep the story bouncing along.
My only negative would be that it was a 3D screening when in reality, it just doesn’t need it. Some kids don’t get on with the glasses but genuinely, the movie is so beautifully put together, the 3D didn’t really add anything for me. A minor point really so don’t feel bad if you ‘only’ get to see it in 2D, you’ll enjoy it just as much.
Disney Pixar have managed to do the impossible… they have come up with a movie I would happily put up there with the original Monsters Inc. My kids loved it and we chatted for a good 15 minutes about it on the tube journey home. It’s a worthy sequel (prequel?) to Monsters Inc in every way. Go see it, you won’t be disappointed.
And yes, if you have the patience to sit through the end credits, there is a little treat at the very end!
Monsters University is in UK cinemas from July 12, 2013.