Review first published by Film4.
Synopsis: This Pixar prequel sends lovably monstrous duo Mike and Sully back to school for some funny life lessons on scaring.
Review: As nerdy, swotty Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and complacent, entitled Sully (John Goodman) meet, compete, and eventually team up (with each other and a fraternity of prodigious pariahs) to win the coveted award in Monster University’s annual Scare Games, this prequel to Monsters, Inc. (2001) also reveals itself to be a remake of Revenge of the Nerds (1984). Yet if in its day Revenge… represented a briefly satisfying moment in which the jocks – and all the Reaganite anti-intellectual machismo and swaggering entitlement that they embodied – lost out to marginalised Poindexters, then the Lambda Lambda Lambda geeks have long since grown up into a weird, wired world where nerd is the new normal, where Washington’s biggest frathouse now has an African-American President, and where Eighties dweebs now run Microsoft, Facebook and even Pixar.
So times have changed, and now that Monsters University does not have to work so hard to sell its nerdy characters as lovable misfits, it can instead take what is arguably an even more audacious route (whether in the Eighties or today), by suggesting that winning isn’t everything, and that some (American) dreams are destined to remain chimerical. Mike’s aspiration to be top Scarer is constantly undermined by the fact that he is just not cut out to inspire terror – and yet through failure he gradually discovers where his real talents lie, and through hard work he eventually realises, by the back door, a different version of his ambitions. Likewise the film itself, though ostensibly focused on fear, is too funny to frighten, playing to all of Pixar’s strengths: strong characterisation, well-written zingers, exquisitely imaginative visuals, measured lunacy and boundless heart. It might even inspire a new generation both to go to university, and not to be fratty brats when they get there…
In A Nutshell: A funny, furry entry for kids yet to experience the horrors of tertiary education, or the disappointment of dashed dreams.