Will ‘Monsters University’ graduate to Oscars?

With the release of Pixar’s “Monsters University,” Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) return to the Oscar derby with unfinished business.

Back in 2001, they lost the first-ever Oscar race for Best Animated Feature to “Shrek.” A dozen years later, they are looking to avenge that defeat .

The critical response to “Monsters University” has been much better than to Pixar’s most recent extension of a franchise — “Cars 2” in 2011. That film was the first from the studio to be snubbed by the Oscars.

 “Monsters University” scores 74 among top reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes and 66 at Metacritic. We will know after this weekend whether audiences are saying ‘put that thing back where it came from or so help me.’

“Monsters, Inc.” ranks as one of the great Pixar pictures so there is a lot at stake here. The hardest thing to do with second film is to stay true to the original world, characters and story without repeating oneself. As per the more favorable reviews from the likes of Chris Nashawaty (EW), in this respect it excels. By being a prequel that chronicles the first meeting of Mike and Sully, the film can tread new ground. “Monsters University” shows us how they became the characters we know and love from “Monsters Inc.”

Through this new story, we are given insight into intimate themes such as loneliness and the forming of a friendship. With so much of Hollywood films focused on romance it’s nice to see a film be a love letter to companionship. It’s not a film set on a large scale, and that’s what works.

While this film lacks some of the fast-paced wit from the first feature, there is still a good mix of verbal and physical comedy largely brought by Mike and the misfit frat monsters of Oozma Kappa. It’s also fun to see what Randall — the villain from “Monster’s Inc.” — was like in college. Fans will love to see how the filmmakers use John Ratzenberger who has been a voice in every single Pixar film.

“Monsters University” marks a strong return to form for the studio and more than belongs in the canon of Pixar’s best pictures. And it could well win that Oscar that was denied to the original film.

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