“Monsters University,” Pixar's long-awaited prequel to the 2001 monster hit “Monsters Inc.,” may not quite rise to the heights of the original.
But it's still Pixar, which means the animation is awesome and detailed, the voice work and character development are strong, and the story is can't-miss entertainment for kids and tweeners.
It may not offer quite as much as some Pixar animated features do for the parents and grandparents in the audience, but this is one older patron who enjoyed the story of misfits who triumph through teamwork and perseverance, from start to finish.
This prequel goes way back, to when round, one-eyed Mike (voice of Billy Crystal) was a grade-schooler with braces at Frighton Elementary. His class takes a trip to the scare floor at Monsters University, and that's it for Mike. He's found his calling. He wants to be a scarer.
Flash forward about 10 years, and Mike arrives on campus for his freshman year full of optimism. Just one problem: He may study harder than anyone and know the textbooks and techniques, but he's missing that certain something. Nobody believes he can be scary.
Not the intimidating Dean Hardscrabble (voice of Helen Mirren), a sort of centipede with bat wings. Not the elite fraternities drafting students like Sully (voice of John Goodman), the big, blue, furry guy who is a legacy student — his dad was a legendary scarer.
Right away, Mike and Sully can't stand each other. It's the know-it-all versus the slacker.
But when the dean kicks them out of the scaring school, their only chance to get back in is to form a team of campus castoffs to win the Scare Games, which the dean herself founded.
Kids who know the original film will love learning how Mike and Sully became fast friends, and this takeoff on “Revenge of the Nerds” offers a positive message that anything is possible — even for kids who don't seem to fit in — if you want it badly enough and are willing to work at it.
It would be hard to imagine better voice talent than Crystal as feisty, enthusiastic Mike or Goodman as mumbling, bumbling Sully. And Mirren, as the imperious dean with squinty eyes, a pinched face and a tiny slit for a mouth, is simply a treat to listen to, whatever she says in that clipped Brit accent.
Sean Hayes and Dave Foley team up as a two-headed member of Mike and Sully's team, and Steve Buscemi voices sneakiness into Mike's first roommate, a chameleon. Alfred Molina is also good as a scary-arts professor.
“Monsters University” is preceded by a Pixar short, “The Blue Umbrella,” in which everyday items in a cityscape like a drainpipe, a mailbox, a roadwork sign and a manhole conspire to keep the hope of true love alive. It has the look of a live action, and it's a charmer.
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