Monsters U | Dan Scanlon | Pixar/Walt Disney Pictures | June 21, 2013
It’s been 12 years since Pixar released Monsters Inc. It came out during the peak years of Pixar’s creativity and its rightfully placed high up on the list of their best films — no small feat at all. While I was naturally curious about a sequel, I was also very cautious as I didn’t want them to ruin such a great story just because the studio wanted to make a quick buck. When I read that the sequel was actually a prequel, showing how Mike and Sulley’s partnership as professional scares came to be, I was relived. It was something that seemed refreshing, as it would enable Pixar to create a new world while paying ode to the first film, instead of just rehashing old ideas in a sequel.
The film starts us off from the perspective of Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal). We see the struggles that Mike goes through as the smallest monster in his class, and feel for him as he gets pushed around by everyone. On a a class trip to visit Monsters Inc. Mike has a close encounter that causes him to decide then and there that he will grow up to be a scarer by attending Monsters University. It’s a wonderful sequence that puts us right back into the feel of the series, almost as if these characters had never left at all.
From there we pick-up with Mike’s journey as he begins attending Monsters University. It’s a lively world with all kinds of different monsters, most of which are larger, and much scarier than Mike. This doesn’t bode well for him, or for his “scare major” which is reserved for only the biggest and baddest monsters around. This is where Sully (John Goodman) finally comes back into the picture. Contrary to what you expect, it’s not love at first sight. Sully comes from a famous family and is able to take a lazy, easier, way out. Mike, on the other hand, is the smallest, least frightening, monster of the entire class. He has to work hard just to prove he belongs. Mike and Sully don’t see eye to eye, and it’s after an incident during their big final exam that they are forced to work together and try to find a way to help each other out.
Monsters University plays out almost as a Revenge Of The Nerds type quest as Mike & Sully are forced to join a fraternity in order to prove their worth as scarers. Only their fraternity is the least threatening of the school. Rather, they are a bunch of loveable nerd types that seem like they wouldn’t hurt a fly. These guys are played By the likes of Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Peter Sohn, and Charlie Day, who steals the movie with every line he is offered. From this point on the movie finds its groove more so towards comedy with a little bit of drama thrown in the mix, mostly once again between Sully and Mike.
Monsters University is more so played for laughs and entertainment, rather than the emotional sentiment that Pixar is more notable for. Even so, they still found ways to create some complex moments that you really don’t see in children’s films. You see, no one believes in Mike, not even those who are closest to him. He’s juts not scary. In ways Pixar is telling us that sometimes you just aren’t good enough. No matter how bad you want it, or how bad you work for it, sometimes life doesn’t work in your favor. It’s not always easy, and life isn’t always fair. This sounds bleak, but don’t worry the movie handles it well, considering that we obviously know that Mike & Sully do make it as scarers. So it’s the journey and not quit attitude that Mike has that is his viable skill, and he needs to use that in order to keep fighting the good fight.
When I look back at the film, there’s a moment between Mike & Sully near a camp lake site that stole the show. After a large confession to each other, the two of them sit next to each other as the light of the moon shines over a lake. The camera pans behind them, showing just them and this vast scene of nature. The two of them are finally at peace with each other, and Pixar finds a magical moment and lets the image do all the talking. There’s always moments like this in the truly great Pixar films, and although it was a pretty moment, I only wish the film had more of them.
I saw Monsters Inc. back when I was 11-years-old, which is sort of frightening. But now I am a college graduate and thrown into the real world. A lot of the themes that Monsters University hits on are pretty relevant, coming full circle in odd ways. Monsters University is not comparable to its predecessor, but it’s a funny and sweet sequel that is a perfectly fine effort into the Pixar catalogue, and a movie that everyone will be able to enjoy.