I have been waiting so long for this film. I remember hearing rumours of a sequel to Monsters, Inc. over 6 years ago. Then that initial project got scrapped. Suddenly, in 2010, they confirmed that a prequel was being made. Then its release date got delayed from 2012. Now, on July 12th 2013, I finally got to return to the world of Monsters, Inc., over 12 years after its initial debut in 2001. Of all the Pixar films of my young childhood, Monsters, Inc. certainly made a big impression on me. In fact, Mike Wazowski was voted in to be my school house’s mascot; the film clearly left a legacy on the legions of kids who grew up on Pixar. Being able to return to those characters that we loved, in a prequel nonetheless, is a rare treat from Pixar and one I was incredibly excited for.
So the premise of Monsters University is to serve as a prequel to Monsters, Inc. In this universe, the real world is bordered by a monster-inhabited world, and monsters can cross over to the real world through bedroom doors. Their primary purpose? To scare the screams out of young children and use that scream energy to power the monster society. Monsters University focuses on how the legendary duo of Mike and Sully became ‘scarers’, and in a wider context, how they became friends. We see Mike as an incredibly adorable young monster visiting his future place of employment with wide-eyed wonderment, and then follow him as he enrols in Monsters University on the scare programme. It is there where he starts to realise his dream of becoming a scarer might not be as easy as he thinks.
Mike is your typical, A-type go-getter who gets picked on for being small and nerdy. Meanwhile, Sully is immediately the top dog, embodying that jock-archetype so common in American high school films. The rest of the characters in the film are pretty much variations on typical high school/college stereotypes. From the goth group to the jock group to the nerd group, these monsters are all surprisingly human in their mannerisms. What’s fantastic is the way that despite using these very common stereotypes, the fact that they’re monsters still plays into it. For example, the typical blonde cheerleader group may look purple and harmless, but in a second, can give a glare that would scare off even Medusa herself. The use of monsters gives the creative direction so much freedom in constructing these interesting characters who are still relatable but distinct enough.
Then again, it is in these stereotypes that the film feels a bit flawed. It’s just not as original as some of Pixar’s other offerings. A huge part of the film feels a lot like your typical American college movie, with the same kind of antics. The frat party scene, for example, was incredibly predictable. In fact, the film suffers from being a prequel; we know Mike and Sully become friends, we know they become scarers. To some extent, that takes away a lot of the uniqueness possible to the writers in this film. I know there were some retcons, but some sections just don’t pack the same kind of surprise or punch that they would if this was our first foray into the world of monsters.
Still, the film improves on the original in a few worlds, not least of which is in artistic and graphical style. The world of Monsters University is gorgeously realised. I watched it in 3D, and it’s definitely one of the better 3D offerings I’ve seen. I know Toy Story 3’s 3D elements felt very contrived and barely worth the cost of the glasses, but Monsters University manages to utilise 3D in a non-gimmicky way. I do think the 3D enhances the aesthetic of the film, and it’s used very subtly but to great effect. There is a moment right towards the end, set in the real world, which is particularly stunning. Whilst I still don’t believe 3D is a necessary element in films, it was used very well in Monsters University; subtle enough to not be annoying, but present enough to enhance the experience and increase the immersion.
What I was very impressed with was the very wholesome way in which it managed to depict university life, whilst not being patronising. It’s very much a family film, as I was reminded of when I sat down in my seat only to be followed by a small rabble of squealing pre-teen girls who giggled incessantly and dropped their popcorn everywhere. Still, as a university student myself, although we don’t have the same kind of fraternity culture here in the UK, there were many scenes I could relate to. This is the second time I’ve felt like Pixar has grown up with me (the first being the progression of Toy Story -> Toy Story 3) and it really does add a whole extra element of sentiment to it.
Lastly, I think what I found most enjoyable are just the little moments of beautiful comedy present throughout in the overall comedy. I know animated films are chock a block full of these little vignettes of hilarity, but I find a lot of them can fall flat on older audiences. It’s a hard task to create gags and jokes which work for both 8 year olds and 80 year olds and everyone in-between. Pixar is a master at that, and Monsters University is one of the best examples of that. There was never a lull in the entertainment, and that was in large part kept up by just small, brilliant moments, particularly from the secondary characters.
Overall, Monsters University is a thoroughly enjoyable film. I don’t think it’s quite on the same level as the original Monsters, Inc. (the film definitely suffers from a lack of Boo!) as the plot and premise just isn’t as spectacular in light of it being a prequel. Simply put, the narrative is fairly run-of-the-mill and highly predictable; I know most kid’s films are predictable, but this really was a problem in certain scenes which fall very short due to this. Still, there is plenty to like in this film; it’s genuinely funny for all age groups and it’s a lovely feel-good summer film to get you pumped for life in general. With plenty of heart and wit, it’s also visually stunning and boasts a rip-roaring soundtrack which will definitely get you excited. I do recommend the film, but it had a lot to live up to and I’m not sure it quite reached that level of hype and brilliance that its predecessor set up.