Monsters University was something I was keeping my eye on, but not very excited about. Anytime a new Pixar movie is coming out I’m always excited and have high expectations. All of them, aside from two, have been masterfully made and masterpieces in their own way. The last two entrees for them, however, brought about Pixar’s first ever slump. Cars 2 was decent, but was a major let down. Same thing with Brave. Still am furious and flabbergasted that it won best animated film over everything, especially Wrek-It Ralph. This was the first time I wasn’t pumped up or not wanting to see it immediately after release. A sequel made more sense than a prequel as well. Why should we be interested in Mike and Sully going to college when we know what they’re studying is deemed wrong later? Monsters University isn’t quite up to par with others, but Pixar is officially back (hopefully it continues). Whether or not a sequel would have worked better, I really enjoyed this.
A young Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) is on an elementary field trip at Monsters Inc. factory. While there, he comes to idolize professional scarers and feels it’s his destiny to become one. A top scarer encourages the kids to attend Monsters University and bestows his MU cap to Mike. Years later, Mike has arrived at MU. He’s ready to prove that despite an unintimidating appearance, there’s a fierce scarer in him. He and his roommate, Randall (Steve Buscemi), join the scare class. The arrogant and naturally skilled James P. Sullivan (Sully) (John Goodman) is also in the class. Him and Mike butt heads and form a competitive relationship. Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) – the very strict principle – says straight up she’s only there to make greater monsters greater. So, if they fail an upcoming exam, they are out of scare club. Mike is determined to work hard nonstop and pass.
Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird, and Dan Scanlon fashioned a fantastic all-around screenplay. Let’s start with the characters. All the original characters were great, but we knew and loved Mike and Sully by far the most. This is Mike’s story. Sully still plays a big role in it, though. Their relationship wasn’t handled the way I was expecting. They aren’t friends at first. It was neat seeing the friendship form. The study hard teacher’s pet and the “natural” talent scarer. I was glad to see Randall appear; wasn’t sure if they would use him for more than a glance. When things start out it really worked for me. One problem, however, is that Randall’s relationship with Mike is cut off rather quickly (Sully’s was fine). Wish a bit more material was given to that. The new characters are all solid, and some actually leave a mark. Art, Don, and Dean Hardscrabble are a few. I liked the dynamic between the entire Oozma Kappa gang.
Albeit predictable at times, the story was extremely well structured. There are essentially three parts to the plot. Each part progresses something forward. Little developments and throwbacks to the first were a joy to see. You assume a typical happy ending, but a different spin is put on it that caught me off guard. Thought it tied up things perfectly with the original (Mike and Sully didn’t meet in the fourth grade, but I can forgive that) in many ways. I loved the ending. Of course tons of college references are blended in. Most or mixed in cleverly and homages to classics can bring laughs even to adults. Tons of funny lines overall; can’t remember not at least chuckling at the humor. The script does enough to keep you guessing in certain aspects.
As always with Pixar, the voice acting and animation is spot-on. It’s starting to sound cliché when praising animation from Pixar. All the details on skin, scales, hair, and everything else is stunning. What will always remain the best, is the facial expressions. No one even has to say a word because they’re faces convey the message. The characters truly are brought to life. Billy Crystal and John Goodman are back and it’s like they never left. Both still embody what made us fall in love with them in the beginning. Steve Buscemi is just as good in his return too. Helen Mirren is the most noteworthy of the new cast members joining. She is flawless at the strict authority figure that should not be crossed. Charlie Day, Joel Murray, Peter Sohn, and the rest of the supporting provide great voice acting.
There are messages and subtle life lessons here that are much more nuanced than many live action films. As much as we would like to alter different truths, some can’t be denied. Grueling hard work can only take you so far. Some situations require that extra element not every person has. It also shows how differences do benefit. Another theme that was under the curtains, but still there, is even monsters are afraid of the real world just like lots of people. Fear of what life has in store; can we fulfil our dreams? The biggest accomplishment is Monsters University does this without feeling preachy or cheesy. The story, characters, and poster resembles Revenge of the Nerds, but takes stuff while keeping an identity itself. Monsters University wasn’t the prequel we wanted, but boy am I glad it happened. Had a big smile on my face the entire time, and want a second experience soon; go see this!