MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (G)
My son is one of the Pixar generation. The first two Toy Story films, Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc made up his first interactions with the idiot box and their siblings in the Pixar line-up - Ratatouille, WALL-E, Cars - were the first films I was able to share with him my love of seeing films at a cinema.
Pixar is of course the American animation company who took Disney's crown as animation king - until Disney bought them out in 2006 (Disney Pixar is credited here).
Its latest film is a prequel to their 2001 Monsters, Inc, which was about two friends working their dream jobs at the company that bottles the screams of scared children to use for energy.
Monsters University is set years before, when young Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James Sullivan, or ''Sulley'' (John Goodman) are freshmen at that great hall of learning, which turns out some of the best and scariest monsters in the business.
Mike is adorable, sweet and supportive of those around him, and thus obviously not cut out for Scaring 101. Unfortunately for him, a fight with Sully in front of the school Dean (Helen Mirren) gets them both cut from the class. Their only way back into the class is to win the university's annual Scare Games. This film has been much talked about in our house, and I'm pleased to report it lives up to expectations.
The great thing about animation for a production company is the story possibilities aren't limited by the age of your stars. Crystal and Goodman's voice characterisations do as much as the luridly coloured animations to make this film. Goodman's timberous gravelly voice is a good character note as the young Sully, who uses the monstrous growl of his voice to hide this teenage insecurities. Sometimes you read the credits of these films, are surprised to find that the unrecognisable voices or forgettable work belong to big Hollywood names.
Not so the work here of Helen Mirren, whose icy delivery (dis)embodies absolute scariness as the formidable Dean of M.U. A decade or more in gestation, the story hits the emotional arcs expected from their stable, but with three authors – Robert L Baird, Daniel Gerson and Dan Scanlon – the screenplay may have been a little overcooked.
The second half lags, and parents of the easily distracted may find themselves chasing their kids around the cinema at the 100-minute mark.
There are visual treats to be found throughout, and kids in the early grades at school learning about phonics will enjoy the extended riffing on the repetitive use of vowel sounds.
School holidays must be starting somewhere this week, as this is the first of two big-budget animation sequels launching, with Despicable Me 2 hoping to give Mike and Sulley a run for their money.
This film - and Despicable Me 2 which I have also reviewed - should be rewarded for championing friendship, family, study and honesty.
Monsters University screens with a new Pixar short animation, The Blue Umbrella, a twee little homage to silent cinema and classics. I rolled my eyes and your kids will ask you when the real movie starts.