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Entertainment & Lifestyle

‘Monsters U’ not in same class as original

6/27/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

“Monsters University,” Pixar’s prequel to “Monsters, Inc.,” is now playing in movie theaters.
Photo courtesy of Disney/Pixar
“Monsters University,” Pixar’s prequel to “Monsters, Inc.,” is not one of those animated movies where it can be said, “The stakes have never been higher.” No, the stakes are pretty low here. The sun will come up whether or not our heroes prevail. The embodiment of evil is not lurking behind the corner.

What we have with “MU” is an amiable movie that’s very colorful and oftentimes amusing but without the emotional punch of the original. It’s kid friendly, despite it being about monsters who scare little children, and despite a story that recalls “Animal House” and “Revenge of the Nerds.”

The movie presents the college years of monsters Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman). Both dream of being “scarers,” a lofty goal saved for only the best and most beastly of the monster population. (As you might recall from the first movie, the monsters’ universe is powered by the screams of small children.) The hulking Sulley, whose father was a top scarer, has a leg up in his pursuit, if only he would hit the books. Mike, a green billiard ball with one large eye, studies like a demon but is as frightening as a throw pillow.

The two undergrads are thrown together when they collectively draw the ire of dragon-like lady Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), who knocks them off the scarer track. If you’ve seen enough animated movies, you know there’s more to the sinister-looking Hardscrabble than what she lets on, and lo and behold (MINOR SPOILER) no, wait — that’s all she is. She isn’t secretly plotting world conquest or leading a legion of brainwashed minions. She’s just a tough but caring member of academia, and Pixar should expect a terse letter from Animation Headquarters for deviating from cartoon-movie convention.

Mike and Sulley, now considered misfits, take refuge with a nerdy fraternity and look for ways to get back in Hardscrabble’s good graces. They find a path, which will involve them battling the “cool kids” in contests. One particularly funny event deals with them having to enter a gauntlet where they’ll scare dummies representing small children while avoiding grumpy, jaded teens. (Hearing “But I love him, Daddy” is a sign you’ve turned the wrong way.)

It’s all very pleasant, and you’ll leave the theater without demanding a refund. Crystal gives Mike a cheerful innocence and Goodman makes Sulley an appealing slacker dude.

But “Monsters University” is no “Monsters, Inc.” While the original 2001 movie doesn’t have the visual flourishes of “MU,” its story, which centers around the bond Sulley forms with human toddler Boo, was a masterful heart-tugger you can get choked up just thinking about. (Admission: My daughter was about the age of Boo at the time I first saw it.) “Monsters, Inc.” is one for the ages. “Monsters University,” like many of our college years, will be something you’ll remember enjoying but have only vague recollections why.

Before “Monsters University” is the cute short “The Blue Umbrella,” which shows how far Pixar has come with simulating real life on its digital canvas.

The movie, currently in theaters, is rated G.

Three Stars (out of four)

 

Craig Marks is a cartoonist and editorial, sports and entertainment writer for the West Side Leader.

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