Review: “Monsters University” packs silly and scary surprises into Pixar prequel with stunningly realistic animation and fun story

in Disney, Movies, Pixar

Mike and Sulley are back, but not as you remember them. Taking a leap back in time, “Monsters University” explores how these best buddies became friends over the course of their college careers in attempts to master the elite scaring curriculum. But this movie doesn’t follow all the tired old cliches of college films, instead bringing “Monsters Inc” fans a chance to get to know the stories behind their favorite two characters.

“Monsters University” at first follows Mike Wazowski, establishing why the Monsters, Inc. scarers are so highly revered across Monstropolous. Through a few familiar settings, viewers follow along with Mike, being introduced to the monster world again, but as if for the first time. Through a mix of humor and suspenseful adventure, Mike is set on his path to try to become a scarer at the film’s namesake Monsters University, one of the top training schools for the profession.

Anyone who has seen the trailers for “Monsters University” may think its story is obvious, but previews have only revealed – at most – a third of the plot. Once past the first act (which itself has surprises), the remaining hour sets Mike, Sulley, and a cast of familiar and new characters on a wild adventure across the college campus and beyond. It’s a film that impressively keeps viewers’ attention through humor and cleverly themed visuals, but also makes sure each of its many characters is well developed, serving specific roles that aren’t always predictable.

Across a variety of fraternities and sororities, “Monsters University” introduces plenty of new hilarious characters. There are the stuck-up monsters from ROR, the goths from HSS, the outcasts from OK, and – my favorite – the sisters with a secret from PNK, among many more. They all play key roles in the events that take place over the majority of the movie.

Pixar has come a long way since 2001’s “Monsters Inc,” with more than a decade of animation technology advancements really showing through in the new film. As “Monsters University” makes its way into its third and most surprising act, a few twists are thrown in creating some of the movie’s most memorable moments in comedy (with a touch of horror), all achieved through impressively detailed and realistic animation and visual effects.

Speaking of which, “Monsters University” is preceded by the newest Pixar short, “The Blue Umbrella” which is easily their most visually stunning short to date. Its opening shots arguably look like live action with incredibly photorealistic shading, lighting, textures, and animation persisting throughout. Its story is not exactly unique or original, nearly mirroring that of Disney’s “Paperman,” but it’s still an impressive piece of animation that will charm filmgoers.

Ultimately “Monsters University” is a fulfilling prequel to a beloved Pixar classic and for many will prove to be a far more likable film than Pixar’s previous movie “Brave.” Though from the beginning we all know where this story ends, the path Mike and Sulley take to reach their highly sought-after employment on the Monsters Inc. scare floor is the unknown that this film unfolds, taking viewers on an adventure, laughing all the way through.

And to 3D or not 3D? “The Blue Umbrella” and select scenes of “Monsters University” take full advantage of the 3D format, but the majority of the main movie does not.

“Monsters University” screams into theaters on June 21, 2013.

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