Monsters University

Happy news! Pixar has made an excellent movie. Monsters University reclaims the magic. After the messy Cars 2 and the merely passable Brave, MU does what the best Pixar movies have always done: tell a great story in an entertaining way.

Does Monsters University break new ground? No. (Well, there are a few new monsters.) But two of Pixar’s most likeable characters, Sulley and Mike, return to the screen in a prequel (or, if you prefer, “origin story”) to 2002’s Monsters, Inc. Voiced by John Goodman and Billy Crystal, respectively, the duo is revealed not to have been chums from the beginning. In fact, there were hard feelings and resentments between the two. But circumstances in the film dictate that they team up to reach a goal.

Both wash out of Scare School at the U (for different reasons) and seek redemption in the school’s annual Scare Games. They make a deal with the stern headmaster Miss Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) that if their team wins the Scare Games, they’ll get back into Scare School.

The Scare Games are clever and entertaining. Will these underdogs and their fellow MU misfits make it through to the finals? Will they find the redemption they seek? Think you can guess what happens? Maybe not.

MU is a cute and funny film that will make you happy. Whereas Monsters, Inc. was a bit more about Sulley, Monsters University leans more toward Mike and his challenges. MU has a final act that takes them from the University all the way to the story that is told in Monsters Inc.

Regarding Pixar, Disney and branding: 2012 was confusing. Brave, a Pixar branded film looked like a Disney branded film whereas Wreck-It Ralph (officially a Disney film) had the story, look, voice-acting virtuosity and whimsy that have been Pixar trademarks. That branding may be further muddied later this summer when a Pixar-looking movie called Planes appears as a Disney nameplate movie. Disney, of course, owns Pixar.

Regarding John Goodman’s distinctive voice: My daughter was working at a busy retail establishment during last holiday season here in St. Louis. She said she heard Sulley’s voice and looked around. There was John Goodman standing in her checkout line.

At the end of every Pixar film, a list of babies born to production staff during the making of the movie is evidence of the time and effort that goes into making such a film. Sadly, at the screening I attended the film cut off before getting that far into the credits. That’s one reason to see it again. Another is that Pixar movies, for me, tend to improve with repeat viewings. Monsters University is rated G.


The story in the newest Pixar movie, “Brave,” is, in some ways, like those in the old Disney fairy tale movies. In one major way, though, “Brave” is very different from the Disney of days gone by: the movie’s central character is a girl. And she’s not some helpless princess. She’s a girl who knows what she wants.

What she wants is to go against the traditions of her kingdom which dictate who she’ll marry. This girl, Merida, a Scottish redhead, has spunk. She is a character whose actions will be embraced by young girls (and maybe even some boys) around the world.

But does this movie break new ground? Most of the Pixar movies have given us imaginative characters like talking cars, talking toys, talking dogs, lovable monsters, etc. “Brave” has characters that could’ve starred in a Disney animated movie 50 years ago. No, it does not break new ground—with the exception of Merida’s feistiness.

Most of the characters have strong Scottish accents but, happily, they all can be clearly understood—with one notable comical exception. The voice cast includes Kelly Macdonald (as Merida), Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane and, of course, John Ratzenberger.

If you go to see “Brave,” you’ll want to stay until the house lights come up. First, to see the list of babies born to crew members during the film’s production—well over 60 for this one—which is traditionally included in the end credits of each Pixar movie. And second, for the brief but funny scene that ties up one of the movie’s loose ends.

Until last year’s overstuffed and tedious “Cars 2,” each Pixar release was a “must see.” Sadly, while “Brave” captures the magic of a bygone Disney era, it is not a step forward for Pixar. It’s a good animated movie but not a “must see.”