Before their days at Monsters Inc., James P. Sullivan and Mike Wazowski meet at Monsters University, where all the scariest monsters go to learn to be scarers.
Dan Scanlon, 2013
Monsters Inc. is one of my favourite Pixar movies. I love the creativity of the world, I love the creature designs and the different characters. Sully even reminds me of one of my best friends. So I was among those who were fairly excited when Pixar announced that they’d be making a prequel to Monsters Inc. – while Cars 2 is reportedly awful, all the Toy Story movies have been lovely. While Monsters University is beautifully rendered and continues to have fun characters who look fantastic, I didn’t think it lived up to the standard of the first film.
The humour in this movie is directed at children more than in the first, I think – there are a few jokes that raise more of an eye-roll than a giggle from a grown-up audience, though there are others that hit the mark. Set over a longer period of time, it also lacks the first film’s sense of urgency, and the central conceit is one seen so often before as to be seriously repetetive. It’s an odd attempt to make a college film for a young audience. There is a fairly obvious teamwork message that is laid on pretty thick, which is unfortunate – the message of Monsters Inc., of not fearing the unknown, is more interesting and less ham-fistedly delivered. You can see the most of the twists and turns of this movie coming a mile away, although there is a nice throughline of achieving your dreams in different ways and not always giving up at the first hurdle – or second, or hundredth. The relationship between our two leads, Mike and Sully, is brought about with care, although a few realisations come a little bit too easy. Also, please, Pixar, more girls – some of the girl monsters of the Eta Hiss Hiss sorority house, which appears to be a house full of derby girls, could have had a movie all to themselves that I would love to see.
The characters start out as being fairly selfish and difficult, while still being relatable, and their redemptions don’t come too easily. There’s a great spooky scene near the end that is seen, for once, from the point of view of the things that go boo, which is pretty fantastic. The supporting characters are painted in broad strokes, and this leads for a hit-and-miss approach – there are a few that are forgettable, but some of them are terrific monster takes on college archetypes. There’s Art, the purple monster, who is a brilliant weirdo hilariously brought to life by Charlie Day. Also lending wonderful vocal support are Nathan Fillion as the college jock-bully and Helen Mirren as Dean Hardscrabble, a dragon-centipede monster who is a wonder to behold. These two provide points of conflict, but the real conflict is between Mike and Sully. Rather cleverly, this film centres on Mike Wazowski as opposed to Sully, and the switch in which character is the lead and which character supports works in the film’s favour. The film really is gorgeous, too, in a way the first film couldn’t be due to advances in effects since then. The architecture of the buildings is lovely and imaginative, and there’s a lot of creativity in the character design. One scene by a lake is just stunning, almost real but not in the dead-eye creepy way. Sully’s fur is sleek and shiny, and Mike’s eye gleams with ambition and drive. The world-building is all-encompassing, with each detail of this scare-oriented alternate world lovingly brought to life.
While I appreciate a return to the simple friendship storytelling of the old days, I think a bit more attention could have been paid to making this movie interesting in and of itself plot-wise. It’s sweet and fun, and there are nods to the original without entirely relying on it to tell the story, but I’d like to see something with a little more oomph, no matter how pretty the graphics. Also, more female characters.
Monsters University on IMDb