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Review: 'Monsters University' easily makes grade

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There's a lot of scary fun and hilarity in "Monsters University," the long-awaited follow-up to the 2001 Disney-Pixar Animation classic "Monsters, Inc."

Smartly, the creative heads at Pixar went the prequel route with this one instead doing a tradition sequel, and the movie works wonderfully. Granted, it never quite approaches the level of greatness displayed in "Monsters, Inc.," or for that matter, other expanded Pixar stories like "Toy Story" trilogy. Still, judging it as a stand-alone story, it's a highly respectable entry into the Pixar pantheon and a great, family-friendly summer movie that will appeal to all ages.

"Monsters University" first introduces us to Mike Wazowski as a child, and it's clear from the get-go that the one-eyed green monster doesn't quite fit in with his peers. Slightly annoying but highly intuitive, Mike manages to amaze his schoolmates during a field trip to the scream factory in Monstropolis. Better yet, after a kind gesture by their tour guide, Mike becomes inspired and determined to grow up and attend Monsters University in order to become a Scarer himself.

Picking up about 10 years later, we meet the teen Mike (Billy Crystal) as he arrives at the Monsters University campus, and unfortunately, he's still viewed as an outcast. He does find a kindred spirit in his new roommate Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi), and appears to find a buddy in Sulley (John Goodman), a legacy student who finds immediate popularity because he comes from a line of Scarers.

Mike and Sulley's friendship soon turns into a rivalry, though, when Sulley joins the uber-popular Roar Omega Roar fraternity and leaves his awkward pal behind. But the two will have to learn to start getting along when fate finds them both on the verge of getting kicked out of the Scare Program -- and their only hope to remain relies on the success of their new fraternity Oozma Kappa's performance in the university's annual Scare Games.

See my review of the film on KARE 11 with Bryan Piatt below.

Of course, any audience member even vaguely familiar with "Monsters, Inc." will notice how computer animated technology has grown by leaps and bounds since the original, which itself was impressive for the time. And as bright and stunningly vivid as any of Pixar's recent offerings, there's no question that the visual presentation "Monsters University" is as good as it gets. No matter the fact that its characters are monsters of all shapes and sizes, the characters are completely engaging again, suspending disbelief enough to make them feel real.

While the technology easily supersedes the original, one thing that time can't ever date is a story with heart. That's not to say "Monsters University" doesn't have its share of emotional moments, it just doesn't have the type of "Boo and Kitty" storyline like that of the original film to propel the prequel over the top.

Interview: "Monsters University star Charlie Day

Everything else works, though, including the stellar voice cast of Crystal, Goodman and Buscemi, the only core members from the original to be featured in the prequel. Continuing its fine reputation of being sticklers for detail, Pixar gives the characters more youthful shapes, and even tinkers with their voices a bit to make the stars sound younger. Joining the voice cast is the always remarkable Helen Mirren, who gives a wicked edge to the pivotal character of Dean Hardscrabble, the tough-as-nails Monsters University head who has it in for Mike the day he arrives on campus.

While the story has its share of predictability (after all, it is a prequel), it does throw some decent curves in the narrative, especially with the film's outcome. It also works in a tried-and-true "Revenge of the Nerds" sub-narrative, since Oozma Kappa -- a group of outcast monsters voiced by Charlie Day, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Joel Murray and Peter Sohn -- which can't help but make you feel like you're rooting for the fraternity brothers of Lambda Lambda Lambda again. Despite the familiar feel, it's still a relatable storyline that never grows old.

Of course, "Nerds" was an R-rated movie, but rest-assured "Monsters University" is about as clean as a Pixar movie you can get. Rated G -- a rarity for any high-profile movie these days, much less an animated one -- the film plays as easily to young kids as it does to teens and adults. There's something for everybody at "Monsters University," an institution of higher learning that thankfully avoids dumbing its story down for a cheap laugh.

"Monsters University," rated G, 3 1/2 stars out of four.

See the trailer for "Monsters University" below.

What other local critics are saying …

Chris Hewitt of the Pioneer Press give the film 3 stars, noting the film doesn't "hit the heights of the great movies from Pixar, but it's good from start to finish."

Colin Covert of the Star Tribune gives the film 2 1/2 stars saying, "It’s warm. It’s likable. It’s crisply animated. It’s an underachiever."

Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11” and WCCO Radio. As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed more than 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.

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