MONSTERS UNIVERSITY is a highly enjoyable Disney-Pixar film which provides smart fun for the entire family.
Naturally, the film lacks some of the surprises of the original MONSTERS, INC. (2001), which debuted unusual concepts such as monsters being jolly good guys who scare as a way to power the monster universe.
That said, the movie gets high marks for meticulously creating a monsters college world, which was also shared via the movie's brilliant Monsters University website and marketing campaign.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY takes the characters back in time to when Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) first sets foot on the campus of Monsters U. He first meets Sullivan (John Goodman) when blustery showoff Sulley -- the son of a famous monster -- arrives late to the first day of class.
Sulley seems as though he's on the fast track to be a champion scarer from the outset, but nice, earnest Mike has to study hard for a chance to make the grade in the School of Scaring. Imperious Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) is skeptical that Mike has what it takes to be truly scary.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY is a well-made, upbeat film which may be slightly predictable, as Mike and Sulley experience "personal growth" via their friendship and their college experience, but it is no less enjoyable for that. There are plenty of amusing and recognizable moments, particularly for anyone who's ever been to college.
Crystal and Goodman are perfect voicing their characters; the friendship of Mike and Sulley is right up there with that of Woody and Buzz in the Pixar pantheon.
While watching the movie, I reflected how much I appreciated that MONSTERS UNIVERSITY lacks the darkness of Pixar films such as WALL-E (2008) and UP (2009), which is the same reaction I had to the original MONSTERS, INC. It's a relief to watch an animated film which is simply funny and goodhearted, without some of the typical dark overtones which tend to turn up not just in Pixar films, but also in a number of classic Disney cartoons, including PINOCCHIO, BAMBI, DUMBO...
The film also blissfully lacks the crass touches and tacky language which marred the otherwise creative WRECK-IT RALPH (2012). I agreed with many of the points along these lines in Leonard Maltin's review. It's a movie parents can show their children with absolutely no hesitation, and that's sadly a rare thing these days. It also won't rot the brain cells of either children or their parents, but instead is intelligent and amusing.
Some reviewers seem to have been extra-hard on the film because it didn't reach the high standards Pixar has so often attained. But the reality is that most of the movies I watch are not four-star classics, but good, solid middle-of-the-road movies which tend to wear well over time. MONSTERS UNIVERSITY is certainly in that league.
Nathan Fillion (CASTLE) voices frat boy Johnny; I was amused that the ROR fraternity members were decked out in USC colors and wondered whether it was a coincidence.
Steve Buscemi, who voiced Randy in the original, also recreates his original role. Pixar regulars Bonnie Hunt and John Ratzenberger are both on hand, and when Ratzenberger's Yeti shows up late in the film, there's a wonderful inside joke regarding his job.
I need to watch the movie again to find the Pizza Planet truck and the Luxo, Jr. ball which appear in each Pixar movie, as I was completely oblivious to them on my first viewing!
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY was directed by Dan Scanlon. It runs 110 minutes.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY was preceded by the Pixar short THE BLUE UMBRELLA (2013). I felt that THE BLUE UMBRELLA was a little too derivative of Disney's Oscar-winning cartoon short PAPERMAN (2012) or even ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS (1961), as two umbrellas find each other and, in so doing, unite their owners. That said, some of the shots were exquisite; I particularly loved the look up into the falling rain and the shots of blue and red rain boots.