Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fear-mongering 101

Cute and moving, Pixar’s “Monsters University” revives old critter pals Sulley and Mike from the 2001 hit “Monsters, Inc.” The prequel rewinds to the buddies’ college days, when both characters were untested, aspiring “scarers.”

Monsters University has creature students of all shapes and sizes—there’s a snail, too, which is odd in an environment of mostly myth-connected beings. Anyway, the future best buds start, interestingly enough, as mismatched rivals. The small, cyclopean Mike Wazowski (voiced again by Billy Crystal) and the towering, brutish James “Sulley” Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) show promise as future go-getters in the scaring biz, but for purely different reasons. The imposing Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), however, underestimates Mike, but the latter intends to prove to her that he and a band of meek misfits have what it takes to excel in the field.

“Monsters, Inc.” has always been one of the stranger, more imaginative Pixar projects, and it’s just appropriate that it’s gotten the prequel treatment. There’s much to explore in Mike and Sulley’s world, and while the story does that to an extent, the more satisfying origins are that of relationships and motivations. Sure enough, we get to see how the main chartacters started out in the school, and we get introduced to the peripheral figures that helped shape them into their more familiar selves.

While the underdog angle is quite predictable, it’s easy to like the new characters in Mike and Sulley’s “loser” clique. The unexpected thing about it is the different take on the message; the film’s surprising takeaway involves the characters’ figurative lemonade-making, persevering to achieve dreams despite “sullied” records. This touching and revelatory predecessor will make fans of “Monsters, Inc.” appreciate the original movie, and the main monster duo even more.

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