'Monsters University' Review: A Hilarious, Heartfelt Return To The Monsters Universe

Monsters University features all the entertainment and heart you've come to expect from Pixar, and then some. We meet Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) during their college years, as the company's first prequel is set years before the events of 2001's Monsters Inc.

Director Dan Scanlon turns that simple story idea into a great, fast paced college comedy with an intriguing blend of emotional highs and lows. Every single character and moment is played to near perfect effect, leaving the audience dumbfounded at how the movie constantly keeps raising the bar. Just when you think it can't get better, it does, and you'll leave the theater fulfilled, but also wildly surprised at where Pixar goes this time around.

From the very first scene of Monsters University, it's pretty obvious this film is going to work. It begins with a moment every human shares, even if we don't always realize when it happens. It's the moment where the small world you live in instantly becomes a bigger place and you see your dreams way off in the distance. For a very young Mike Wazowski, that happened on a field trip to Monsters Inc., a place we know he'll eventually work. But he's got a long way to go before that.

Years later, Mike is accepted into Monsters University's prestigious scare program only to find he's being judged by looks alone. The school's dean, an intimidating monster named Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), doesn't respect him, and his classmates laugh at his stature. How could this little guy ever be scary? Another monster, James P. Sullivan, is also judged by his looks, but he's on opposite side of the spectrum. His family name and hulking size make him look like the perfect scary monster. The "don't judge a book by its cover" idea encompasses the film's first third, which does a beautiful job of setting up the story's stakes and character arcs with humor and precision.

Act two sees Mike and Sulley begrudgingly teaming up with the brothers of the paltry Oozma Kappa fraternity to compete in the campus wide Scare Games. Like Mike, monsters such as Don (Joel Murray), Squishy (Peter Sohn) and Art (Charlie Day) don't seem like they have much scare potential. Over the course of the games they'll begin to bond as a team, teaching the audience selflessness always triumphs over selfishness.

Then, in the third act, Pixar zeroes in on a message that's really something special. Everyone remembers the finale of Monsters Inc. for its roller coaster action sequence, but MU creates the same exciting drama through character interaction and misdirection. I won't spoil exactly what happens, or the incredible way it unfolds on screen, but it's a brave choice that elevates what was already a great film into a magical one.

All of the new characters, all of the returning characters, all of the voice actors, gorgeous animation and beautiful writing come together to perfect effect in Monsters University, elevating it to the status of the company's great, great films. It works on every level and, though the second act can feel a tad obvious, the first and third more than cover for it. Pixar fans, animation fans, Disney fans and just plain movie fans are going to be cheering for MU.

/Film rating: 9 out of 10

Monsters University opens on June 21