Edinburgh International Film Festival: Monsters University
Posted on Friday June 28, 2013, 15:27 by Stephen Carty in Edinburgh International Film Festival
Even though Pixar’s recent output has caused many to question their previously-unquestionable dominance over the animated domain (Cars 2, anyone?), Monsters University remained one of the biggest pulls at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. OK, so the finale of Monsters, Inc. didn’t so much close the door on its child-scaring concept as haul it through a shredder. But this belated return to the world of Monstropolis sidesteps such narrative niggles by functioning as a prequel, focusing instead on the university years as shared by pedantic, lime-shaped cyclops Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and Slush Puppy-hued walking carpet James P. Sullivan (John Goodman). Though detailing the duo’s efforts to become qualified scarers, it’s ultimately an origin story of their friendship. When Wazza Met Sulley, if you will.
Like Monsters, Inc., Pixar’s latest skews younger than its best titles and involves a fair amount of brightly-coloured knockabout farce. Happily, though, it’s also genuinely funny – see the look on Mike’s face when he proudly emerges from his first human door as a youngster – while director Dan Scanlon (who served as a story artist on both Cars and Toy Story 3) sees fit to include more depth this time around. Imparting messages about the value of cooperation and the difference between natural ability and hard work, the life lessons here are familiar but ultimately effective, while the added layers will surely prove welcome to anyone who feel the beloved original is a little too straightforward.
There’s little danger of it dislodging the likes of Up, Finding Nemo and the Toy Story trilogy from Pixar’s top shelf. But the characters here are reassuring well handled (Sully is reinvented as the cocky, big-man-on-campus to great effect) and there are nice throwaway touches throughout (like the reveal of why Steve Buscemi’s Randall squints). Both Crystal and Goodman slot back into their respective roles with effortless ease, while Dame Helen Mirren is well-cast as the dragon-like headmistress, Dean Hardscrabble. Again, it’s not going to trouble the animated studio’s upper echelons, but it’s a solid and likeable return to a much-loved monster-‘verse that, in some cases, manages to improve on the original.