In 1995 Pixar released the first full-length computer generated film to critical and audience acclaim. That film changed the industry, hammering the first nail in the eventual coffin of cel animated films. However, it wasn’t until I saw Monsters, Inc. that I realized the full potential for animated films. Filled with originality and imagination, Monsters, Inc. showed what had been laking in Disney films in those years, and after so many Pixar films have followed, still remains one of my favorites. Thus I was reluctant when I first heard a sequel (or prequel) was being made. Pixar had successfully made two sequels for Toy Story, with the third being the best, but also dropped the ball when Cars (the worst Pixar film at that point) got a sequel in Cars 2 (dear god this movie is bad). Thankfully, my fear was for naught as Monsters University had much to offer. While not as imaginative, ambitious, and heartfelt as it’s predecessor, Monsters University managed to still be charming and scare up enough laughs to become one of Pixar’s funniest entries.
Monsters University roles back the clock, instead focussing on scare-duo Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan’s days in college. Growing up, Mike has always wanted to be a scarer for Monsters, Inc., where children’s screams are converted to power. Knowing he lacks scare-ability, he instead focuses on his book-smarts to get him to his goal. Sulley, on the other hand, comes from a long line of scarers and is confident, to the point of cockiness, that his intimidating growl will get him by. Their two different approaches soon lead to conflict, with Sulley thinking Mike isn’t scare worthy and Mike out to prove him wrong. In their attempts to outdo each other, they destroy the scare canister of Dean Hardscrabble, who bans them from the School of Scaring. Mike finds a way back into the College, however, but only if he can manage to join a fraternity and have them win the annual Scare Games. In order to compete, they need six members in their fraternity, prompting Sulley to join, much to the dismay of Mike. But as they compete in the games, they learn to overcome their differences and work towards winning a place in the School of Scaring.
Pixar was smart to make Monsters University a prequel. One of the endearing aspects of Monsters, Inc. is Mike and Sulley’s relationship, and how it is tested when Boo arrives. Therefore it was clever to focus on how that relationship formed, showing how two monsters with apparent different philosophies and talents could become best friends. As in the first film, Billy Crystal, who voices Mike, and John Goodman, who voices Sulley, have great chemistry. Their banter, along with the rest of Oozma Kappa (OK), is witty and fun, allowing for some of the funniest moments that a Pixar film has to offer. It’s a shame, then, that MU doesn’t feel as original as it’s predecessor, relying on too many somewhat successful gag jokes of University life in a Monster world. Upon seeing Monsters, Inc. the first time, I was continually amazed at the inventiveness of the world Pixar had created, especially during the third act that saw Mike and Sulley chasing Randall through the doors that led to different parts of the world. More importantly, Monsters, Inc. had more heart, with the final scene of Sulley visiting Boo being one of the more memorable scenes in a Pixar film. While there are some heartfelt moments in MU, they aren’t nearly as impactful, nor as well executed. Still, Monsters University offers fun for the whole family, with laughs and entertainment replacing some of the emotion from the first film. The voice work is excellent, and as usual, the CGI animation is tops as only Pixar can attain.
Monsters University wasn’t the colossal disappointment I was expecting, but it also wasn’t a return to the pinnacle of story telling that films like Up, Wall-E, and Toy Story 3 delivered. Still, it was entertaining fun, delivering many laughs, and making me crack a smile when I first heard Mike and Sulley’s voice. Hopefully Pixar doesn’t return to this world again; one sequel is enough.