It is a strongly held belief of mine that Pixar needs to stop making sequels. At least for a little while. While I loved every instillation in the Toy Story series, I was less than impressed with Cars 2 (or Cars for that matter). The iconic animation company is renown for creating some of the most innovative and beautiful computer animated films of all time. Yet, lately they have been piggy-backing on the success of their previous endeavors. Financially speaking this makes perfect sense. Whats even worse than piggy backing is falling back on the generic. While I certainly enjoyed Brave I did think it was one of their lesser films. So, when I heard that Monsters Inc. was getting a sequel, after my initial excitement I became skeptical, especially after finding out we were dealing with a prequel. So, this was a sequel that was going to be piggy backing on the success of it’s beloved original AND it wasn’t going to have much to do with the monsters interacting with the human world; my favorite aspect of the first movie. Coming away from my delayed screening, I was pleasantly surprised at both how much I enjoyed the film, as well as how much I missed the Monsters universe.
As the title suggests, University follows Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley’s (John Goodman) scholastic career before they make it to the big times. Primarily focusing on Mike as he strives to overcome his small size and lack of naturally scary traits. Mike and Sulley, in order to stay in the scaring program, must lead their fellow brothers in Ooza Kappa, to victory in the annual “Scare Games”. The games feature a series of events to test their knowledge and technique. Along the way everyone learns about being yourself, being kind to others and using the skills you have etc. etc.
Essentially, Monsters University is a college frat comedy for kids, but also with monsters. It’s an odd combination that the minds at Pixar handled extremely well. Obviously the drinking and partying was switched with partying and eating in a much more G rated sense, but it was done in a way that never took focus away from the story or the characters. As much as I wanted to be disappointed at the lack of interaction with the human world, I couldn’t help but appreciate the glimpse into the world of the monsters. The verity of the monsters was able to be used to produce large amounts of physical humor, and the challenges of the Scare Games were a blast to watch. The movie also did a lot for advancing our knowledge of Mike and Sulley in a way that seemed far more natural than I had anticipated. Adding a history of this kind made the original film all that much richer.
As usual with a Pixar film, the film was beautiful. Visually speaking, the Monsters universe is probably my favorite. The distorted lines, the vastly different architecture and the incredibly varied monster types. The idea that a parallel universe is connected to ours through the use of closet doors may not be new to fiction, but it’s certainly used to great effect here. The necessity of the screams to power one world never gets old. You realize truly how sadistic the movie is when witnessing one monster enter a child’s room and see in the background a crude crayon drawing of the beast. It’s the same monster scaring the same child over and over again! And no one believes him! It’s an incredibly dark presumption about an incredibly loveable franchise. I thoroughly enjoyed this prequel, I’m glad I caught it in theaters, but I still hold firm in my opinion that Pixar needs to take some bolder steps. I’m excited about The Good Dinosaur and Inside Out as they both sound like daring and challenging films to make, especially for a cartoon.