What It's About
For this prequel to Pixar's 2001 "Monsters, Inc.," screenwriters liberally borrow from "The Revenge of the Nerds, "Animal House" and other campus comedies to make an entertaining movie that can be enjoyed by youngsters and adults alike.
While it doesn't quite have the creative spark of the original, the brilliant-hued population of Monstropolis provides plenty of good-natured laughs and lessons on hard work, loyalty and pursuing your dreams.
Before Mike and Sulley were best friends forever, they met at Monsters University with the same goal but different approaches.
Chipper one-eyed green glob Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) has dreamt since childhood that he'd make it into the college's Scare Program to land as a Scarer at Monsters, Inc. He has to work hard at it, as being scary doesn't come naturally to the ambitious little guy.
Big blue furball James B. Sullivan (John Goodman) coasts on his father's coattails. Dear old dad was a legendary screamer, and all Sulley has to do is unleash an occasional malevolent roar, and he's revered.
They start off as adversaries, but fate throws them together as roommates and fraternity brothers.
When circumstances create a tougher road for them, they join a fraternity full of misfits and compete in the Greek Scare Games for glory and honor.
But will that be enough to help them harness children's screams to power their world?
The comfort level that Billy Crystal and John Goodman have together can't be understated, for they make this unlikely pair a dynamic duo.
However, it is the cornucopia of comic geniuses who make the supporting roles sing. There are so many current comedians who deliver a couple quips or stay for much of the movie, but it's hard to figure out who's who unless you read the credits ahead of time.
Charlie Day is very funny as Art -- a shaggy creative student -- while Bonnie Hunt does her stellar Midwest mom accent as Chet's mom.
Helen Mirren is a wonderfully demanding Dean Hardscrabble. Of course John Ratzenberger makes an appearance to maintain his record of voicing a character in every Pixar film.
Pixar's bright-colored state-of-the-art animation is engaging throughout, and their customary attention to detail provides delightful sight gags and quick-witted references.
Written by Andrew Staton and Pete Docter, who also directed with Don Scanlon, they've created fun characters with flashes of whimsy.
What Doesn't Work
But the plot itself is rather lackluster. An obstacle race eventually gives way into a confusing and convoluted conflict so that more antagonists can be featured.
Yet, its heart is in the right place. Recreating a college atmosphere with the goofy fright-minded bunch gave the creators new opportunities to showcase their unique Pixar universe.
And if it's a place you like to spend time, enjoy! (And stay for the final "word" after the credits!).
3 1/2 stars out of 4
Director: Dan Scanlon, Pete Docter
Starring: (Voices) Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi, Alfred Molina, Nathan Fillion, Charlie Day, Dave Foley, Sean Hayes, Bonnie Hunt, David Spade, Michael McKean, Ricky Gervais