When I first heard that Pixar’s Monsters Inc. was slated to get a sequel, I was a little taken aback. Like Finding Nemo, which I’m more than a little incensed about, Monsters Inc. was the Pixar property that needed a sequel the least. While it’s true that the original was brilliantly written and was perhaps the benchmark of computer animation for it’s time, the story that it was trying to tell was emphatically over by the film’s end. With that in mind, I was expecting nothing more than a profoundly transparent milking of the nostalgia cash cow. It was a pleasant surprise, then, when I discovered that the Monsters University would not be a sequel, but a prequel. For me, a little hope had been restored, but it remained to be seen if Pixar could make that singular brand of Monsters lightning strike twice.
Monsters University, directed by Pixar veteran Dan Scanlon, takes place before the events of Monsters Inc. and focuses on the budding relationship between the over-ambitious Mike, intent on becoming the world’s greatest “scarer”, and Sully, possessed of great potential but coasts by on his family name. Direction is overall impressive and the team at Pixar is to be commended once again for making a visually beautiful film, as their masterful CG shines. Stars like Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi reprise their previous roles and help to bring the Monsters universe to life.
The two things that have always impressed me with Monsters are the fully realized and rich world and the dynamic and fun characters. While both of these aspects return in Monsters University, the narrative seems to be much more character focused than it’s predecessor. In many ways, this is a positive development, and each film work well within the context of the other. Monsters University gives us a glimpse into the minds of the characters and lets the audience become invested in their fates, and Monsters Inc. gives the characters some vast, incredible challenges to overcome. The issue with Monsters University, however, stems perhaps from the fact that we know how its going to end.
Sure, we can make a reasonable assumption that the protagonists will win the day- as this is a film aimed at children. What I’m referring to though, is the fact that the audience knows that the overarching goals of the characters, to become “scarers” is based on a lie, and is not nearly as vital as the narrative would have you believe. It may be the case that this relatively small plot hole eliminates any of the stakes that may have been established, but that really depends upon the individual audience member’s investment in the Monsters universe as a whole.
The comedy mostly stems from a lot of the usual tropes of a college comedy being seen through the filter of the monster world. In that sense, I believe that it not only succeeds, but also understands and hits its target audience. See, Monsters Inc. was released in 2001, when I and many other now-college students were just kids. The release of Monsters University perfectly coincided with that film’s target audience’s maturation and assimilation into college life. Indeed, there’s a lot to relate to, and a lot that your average college kid could get out of it. Kids, likewise, will get a kick out of Mike and Sully’s antics, even if this is their first experience with the Monsters franchise.
All in all, there’s a lot of things that Monsters University does right, even if it lacks a little of the Earth-shattering originality of it’s predecessor. Many of its flaws (not that there are many to begin with) can be overlooked, thanks to the brilliantly conceptualized world and clever, dynamic characters. “Solid”, is perhaps the best word to describe the film, and deserves a recommendation at the end of the day.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5