Pixar’s Monsters University is the prequel to Monsters INC. It was a weird choice for Pixar to make this film now since there was no real demand for it like there was for the Toy Story and Cars franchises. It is especially odd as Pixar have released Monsters University now; twelve years since the original.
Monsters University, tells the story of how Mike and Sully met whilst at Monsters University learning how to be ‘Scarers’. The two are far from the friends they were in Monsters INC. In fact, for the first half of the film, they are antagonists to one another. Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) is that guy in classes who studies hard get the good grades yet shows no real spark that represents raw talent. Sully (voiced by John Goodman) on the other hand is the atypical jock who comes from a long line of famous Scarers and is riding the coattails of his family name. Unlike Mike, success comes so easily for Sully with his natural ability and charisma. The film is centered on a competition called the ‘Scare Games’ at the university, in which they are both forced to compete in after being kicked out of the Scare Programme.
Monsters University is pretty much what a Pixar film would be like if it was directed by John Hughes. It acts as a homage to eighties high school and college films. All the stereotypes are there. You have the crusty old college Dean, Miss Hardscrabble (voiced by Helen Mirren), a fraternity of entitled Jocks with puffed out chests and team jackets, and another fraternity of misfits whom Mike and Sully are forced into teaming with for the ‘Scare Games’. These genre elements are mixed with traditional sports film conventions to create a satisfying family entertainment film.
Director Dan Scanlon and his writing team take the film in several different directions, especially with the sports film elements. What we think is going to happen, doesn’t. What this is, and it is something Pixar does very well, is take the audiences’ genre expectations and defy them, throwing us off course with a story arc we are not prepared for, especially in the third act of the film. This makes Monsters University feel all the more refreshing compared to most other animated family films on the market. Another thing Pixar also does well, and does not receive enough credit for either, is making the humour both relatable to both adults and children. Parents whose kids want to see this film need not worry about checking their watches from boredom as there are moments when the humour that is intended for children can be found funny from an adult perspective. Though depending on personal taste, these moments may be far and few between.
John Goodman and Billy Crystal are on top form as they work extremely well with one another. The dynamic between Mike and Sully is perfect and the way their relationship develops throughout is brilliantly acted out. Steve Buscemi returns to voice Randall, the villain from the previous film. However, Randall is now a supporting role with very little screen time. This was disappointing as being able to understand how he came to resent Mike and Sully would have been nice. There are several allusions in the film but not enough to build a concrete conclusion on.
Overall, Monsters University is an entertaining family film with a few laughs and emotional moments. Pretty much what is to be expected from a Pixar film. The overriding theme throughout is that with hard work, honesty, determination and perseverance, you can triumph over the odds to achieve anything. This is a noble message for children and Pixar should be commended for this. But for older audiences who might want to see this film, it may seem a bit contrived as the message is pretty over-the-top throughout.
Monsters University may not be Pixar’s best offering in the last few years but it certainly is a great film by any standards, and will provide a few laughs and a solid hour and forty minutes of entertainment for families and fans of the first film.