Not often am I asked to be a guest on a podcast so when I am, I take it seriously and get my crap in a pile. I was asked to be on a movie nerd podcast once and the topic was the greatest film endings of all time. We were each expected to come up with a Top 10 list and defend and argue our picks. I had some relatively standard choices you'd expect to see; such as, The Usual Suspects, Se7en, and Big Fish. Also on that list coming in at #3 was Monsters Inc. I expected some groans from the panel but actually got agreement from everyone. Why? Because the one/two punch of emotion of having Mike, played by Billy Crystal, show his damaged hands from rebuilding Boo's door for his best friend followed right away by Sully, played by John Goodman, opening the door and seeing Boo was splendid. But the artistic choice by director Pete Doctor to not show Boo's face but just the rush of elation on Sully's as he hear's her voice say, "Kitty!" is one of the most unexpected and tear-jerking endings of all time. Needless-to-say, the bar for Monsters University was set very high.
This prequel follows Mike to college where his friendship with Sully develops and the two become the iconic team we grew to love. Pixar has a mixed success rate when it comes to their sequels. Toy Story 2 was better than the first and Toy Story 3 was the best of the series. However, Cars 2 was worse than Cars, which was already the worst Pixar film to date. Aside from that, audience's standards for Pixar films are already skyhigh since they've made some of the greatest animated movies of all time...in a row! That might be one of the reasons why people are needlessly hard on Monsters University.
Some arguments are made for Pixar having zero originality in the script and say it's nothing more than Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds for kids; but I say that alone is bold and creative. Cars was nothing more than Doc Hollywood, most of Toy Story 3 was The Great Escape and Wall-E was basically every Charlie Chaplin film. Pixar was never this temple of originality but rather the masters of repurposing. Monsters University is exactly that and it's very well done.
Aside from Crystal and Goodman returning as our favorite best friends, the cast is inspired featuring some unlikely choices (like Pixar has often done). Helen Mirren, Charlie Day (Horrible Bosses, Pacific Rim), Aubrey Plaza (NBC's Parks and Rec, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), Nathan Fillion (Much Ado About Nothing, Serenity) and Joel Murray (God Bless America, The Artist) are all hilarious and excellent filling out a world of collegiate zaniness that also feels a bit like Hogwarts.
The only problem with Monsters University is that it isn't better than Monsters Inc. It lacks the powerful messages and soul-touching emotion that we expect from the series. Some of that might have something to do with the fact that it has all new writers and was directed by first-timer Dan Scanlon. But is it so rotten that a sequel is brave enough to be different and doesn't shovel out exactly what made the first one so good? It's certainly funnier than the first one by a lot and leaves you with a feeling that you just had a really good time. That's more than most animated films can say and for that Monsters University certainly graduates with Honors. Monsters University (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: A-