Silver Screen: Monsters University ***
Pixar’s recent sequel frenzy continues with Monsters University-- and will continue to do so with the planned release of 2015’s followup to Finding Nemo. The second helping of characters from Monsters, Inc. seems born more of commercial consideration than inspiration, falling somewhere on the spectrum between the fantastic Toy Story II and III and the sputtering Cars II. But while Monsters University is a worthwhile but not wonderful continuation of a superior original, it’s upstaged by another sequel, Despicable Me II, which turns out to be a significant improvement over the ho-hum original.
“I really liked Sully and Mike,” no one said as they walked out of the theater after Monsters, Inc., “but I still have a lot of lingering questions about their secondary education.” Monsters University boldly answers those questions nobody asked by telling the story of how this mismatched duo became best pals (When Scary Met Sully…?).
Young Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) dreamed of working as a Scarer, the rockstars of the monster world who frighten children in order to cultivate the Scare energy that powers the community. Despite not being even remotely terrifying, the pint-sized Cyclops studies hard and gets into the prestigious Monsters U, where he meets legacy student and big man on campus Sully (John Goodman). Scully’s counting on his father’s name and his own monstrous looks to coast through the program, but when he and Mike fall out of favor with the hard-nosed (or hard-mandibled) Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), they’re forced to enter a fraternity competition to keep their spots as Scaring Majors.
It breaks down into familiar slobs versus snobs formula. Our boys join a mismatched fraternity of losers, including the weird old-guy student (Joel Murray), a two-headed ninny (Dave Foley and Sean Hayes), and an oddball among oddballs (Charlie Day) to lead them to victory against the alpha-monster frat jocks, led by Johnny Worthington (Nathan Fillion). The target kiddie demo won’t have seen Animal House, so this won’t seem quite so repetitive to them, but grownups in the audience won’t find much of anything new here. Monsters University is never bad, but outside of the fun, colorful monster designs it’s strangely unimaginative. Cowriter and director Dan Scalon shoehorns the fantastical world created in 2001 by Pete Docter and the other Pixar wizards into a mold that’s too earthbound and familiar.
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