It’s been 12 long years since audiences first met the one-eyed green monster Mike Wazowski and the adorably scary James P. Sullivan, “Sulley,” of “Monsters, Inc.” and if anyone can pull off the combination of sequel and prequel that is “Monsters University,” it’s the dynamic duo of Disney and Pixar.
Although viewers will remember Mike and Sulley as best friends in “Monsters Inc.,” this wasn’t always the case.
“Monsters University” takes audiences back to Monstropolis many years before Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sulley (voiced by John Goodman) ever met – back to the days when Mike had a mouthful of braces and dreamed of going to Monsters University.
Crystal and Goodman pick up right where they left off in reprising their leading roles, with Crystal providing Mike’s distinct, higher-pitched voice and Goodman once again lending his deep and robust voice to give Sulley that gentle giant quality.
Once Mike finally arrives at Monsters University, he soon learns that becoming a “scarer” will be no easy task for a tiny green monster and pours himself into studying.
Sulley, on the other hand, comes from a long line of scarers and seems to have no trouble fitting right in and joining the popular Roar Omega Roar fraternity.
When things go terribly wrong during a crucial scaring exam, the two are dropped from the scaring program by the intimidating Dean Hardscrabble (voiced by Helen Mirren) and are thrown into an unlikely friendship, as they must figure out a way to be reinstated by winning the Monsters University Scare Games, a competition between the best scarers from the fraternities and sororities.
The only problem is that they must do so by joining the brothers of Oozma Kappa, the less-than-glamorous fraternity made up of four misfit monsters.
As they learn to work together by playing to their strengths, the monsters learn about more than just scaring and give audiences plenty of laughs along the way.
Since many viewers who saw “Monsters Inc.” as young children are now headed off to college themselves, the film’s theme follows a pattern similar to that of former Disney-Pixar sequels like “Toy Story 3.”
The filmmakers also do a great job of incorporating aspects of “Monsters Inc.” into this film to build connections between both movies in the franchise. For example, the lizard-like and untrustworthy Randall Boggs (voiced by Steve Buscemi) from “Monsters Inc.” ends up being Mike’s shy and nerdy roommate when he arrives at Monsters University.
Because “Monsters University” provides the backstory for much of “Monsters Inc.,” audiences might also walk away wanting to see the first movie again to fully appreciate certain moments of foreshadowing or explanation that tie everything together.
At times, it seems as if this film should have been released first, but the fact that most viewers will already be familiar with the characters adds another dimension to “Monsters University.” For example, having already seen what Mike, Sulley and Randall are like as adults makes their awkward and immature younger selves even funnier given the prior context of “Monsters Inc.”
One of the most praiseworthy and attractive qualities of this animated film is how relatable the characters are. From the freshman students trying to navigate through orientation and the first day of college, to adult monsters like Don Carlton (voiced by Joel Murray) who goes back to school, viewers will most likely see a little bit of themselves in many of these characters.
Like “Monster’s Inc.,” “Monsters University” also contains many well-placed comedic moments, due in large part to banter between Mike and Sulley, and physical comedy, including scenes in which Mike attempts to execute scaring techniques and is literally blown away by Sulley’s more intimidating roar.
The new additions to the cast also include some especially noteworthy performances, including that of Mirren, whose British accent and harsh tone fit perfectly with the authoritative and dragon-like Dean Hardscrabble.
What ultimately makes this film shine is what audiences have come to expect from Disney and Pixar – a quality movie with a storyline that sends a message and is filled with emotion. This is more than just a story about monsters – it’s a lesson in self-acceptance and never giving up.