Pixar’s disappointing Monsters University barely earns a passing grade

by Mark Burger

The visuals in Pixar/ Disney’s Monsters University (**) are, not surprisingly, spectacular. Whether seen in 2-D or 3-D, the artisans have unquestionably crafted a memorable menagerie of crazy creatures. The story in Monsters University is, however, surprisingly thin. Given that 12 years have passed since the original Monsters Inc., one might have expected a more novel narrative than the one on display here.

Structured as a prequel to the earlier film, the story details the initial friendship of one-eyed Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and hulking Sulley (voiced by John Goodman), which took place when they attended prestigious Monsters University. When they’re not embarking on academic pursuits — Mike is more studious than Sulley — they become members of a fraternity of outcast students and then compete in the university’s annual “Scare Games.”

All of this isn’t really boring but it’s mighty predictable. Screenwriters Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird and Dan Scanlon (who also directed) appear content to coast on the animation and the goodwill engendered by the first film. Monsters University also seems to run longer than necessary. There are several long stretches without any laughs. It’s just another sequel, perhaps a bit more disappointing than most given the quality of its predecessor.

In addition to holdovers Crystal, Goodman and Steve Buscemi (again as Randy), the star-studded lineup of vocal talent includes Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, Charlie Day, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Bonnie Hunt, Bill Hader, Aubrey Plaza, Julia Sweeney, Pixar perennial John Ratzenberger and Helen Mirren, who brings a requisite and regal imperiousness as Dean Hardscrabble, Mike and Sulley’s constant nemesis.

The best part of the film, actually, is the animated short that precedes the feature. The Blue Umbrella is short, sweet and to the point. In some ways, it’s everything that Monsters University is not.