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Back to school with Monsters University'

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Pixar prequel takes us back to college days


Over the past 20 years or so, no animation studio has produced consistent excellence even close to that put out by the folks at Pixar. It is a singularly impressive body of work even when some of their recent misfires are taken into account ('Cars 2,' anyone?). Of course, most of us are of the opinion that Pixar films are like pizza even the bad ones are still pretty good (again, the aforementioned 'Cars 2' excepted).

'Monsters University' is their latest effort, a prequel to 2001's 'Monsters, Inc.' that takes a look back at the school days of Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal, 'Parental Guidance') and James 'Sully' Sullivan (John Goodman, 'The Hangover Part III').

From his youngest days, Mike wanted nothing more than to be a 'scarer,' one of the elite monsters that help harvest the children's scream energy that powers the monster world. Of course, to become a scarer, one has to go to college. The very best college scare program in the world is located at the titular Monsters University.

Mike shows up at MU ready to study hard and do whatever it takes to rise to the top of his class. Meanwhile, Sully is a legacy son of a famous scarer who has let his family name and natural talent go to his head. As you might imagine, Mike and Sully find themselves at odds almost immediately. But when one of their arguments goes too far and incurs the wrath of the school's Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren, 'Hitchcock'); she promptly expels both monsters from the scaring program. 

A despondent Mike almost gives up before realizing that the school's annual 'Scare Games' a competition between the school's fraternities and sororities that crowns the scariest monsters on campus might be his way back in. 

Of course, no reputable frat will have him, so he winds up with the misfit Oozma Kappa crew non-traditional student Don (Joel Murray, 'Lay the Favorite'), two-headed dance major Terry (Dave Foley, 'The Immigrant') and Terri (Sean Hayes; 'The Three Stooges') and New-Age weirdo Art (Charlie Day, TV's 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia'). When they wind up one short of the necessary number of competitors, Mike begrudgingly allows Sully to join the team.

Can Mike and Sully put aside their differences and help lead this ragtag bunch of underdogs to victory, proving to everyone including themselves that they really do belong at MU?

You can probably guess.

'Monsters University' has a lot going for it. The film borrows liberally from classic college movie tropes; there are nods to everything from 'Animal House' to 'Revenge of the Nerds.' That anarchic spirit shines brightly in spots, once again illustrating Pixar's knack for building layered films that appeal to children and adults on different levels.

It's nice having Crystal and Goodman together again; they wear these characters comfortably. The chemistry between the two of them is undeniable, capturing a wonderful joie de vivre that really makes the relationship pop. Their progression from foe to friend is a lot of fun to watch.

The supporting voices are phenomenal. Not only are Mirren and the OK brothers all great, but there are a number of other excellent performances. Particularly noteworthy are Steve Buscemi (TV's 'Boardwalk Empire') as Mike's roommate and Nathan Fillion (TV's 'Castle') as Johnny, leader of cool-kid frat Roar Omega Roar.

'Monsters University' doesn't quite make it to the 'instant classic' level of some previous Pixar offerings, but that's okay they aren't all going to be 'Toy Story 3' or 'The Incredibles.' It definitely falls somewhere in the middle which considering the company is pretty darned good. Consider this one the best animated offerings of the year thus far.

[4 out of 5]


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