The last few films released by Disney/Pixar have been disappointing to say the least. We all know it, there’s no need to act like they haven’t been. Cars 2 was a complete waste of time, and was the studio’s first pure cash grab (and Rotten film on Rotten Tomatoes), and despite it’s Oscar win, Brave was nothing more than your standard non-Pixar Disney flick. Good, but forgettable. Luckily, with the prequel to 2001’s Monsters Inc., Pixar have finally returned to making great films.
In Monsters Inc., we were introduced to the scaring duo of Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), two of the best scarers at Monsters Inc, a company that harvests the screams of children. Mike and Sullivan accidentally manage to bring back a child to Monstropolis, the hidden world where Monsters reside, that also runs on those harvested screams. This time around we get to see how Mike and Sullivan developed their friendship and learned to be top screamers at, you guessed it, Monsters University!
While Monsters University doesn’t quite have the same amount of heart and originality that Monsters Inc. had, it still largely works as a whole, solidifying itself as the best Pixar film since Toy Story 3. The first film’s focus on the relationship of Mike and Boo is what largely gave that film so much emotional weight. Enough to make this guy well up in the last 10 seconds every single time I watch it. University doesn’t quite pack that deep of a punch, but it’s heart is still in the right places. Focusing more on not counting out the ones that don’t fit in. Upon the start of the film, Sullivan and Mike were on opposite ends of the spectrum. Sullivan was an arrogant “frat monster”, if you will, and Mike was the typical smart guy, and neither got along with each other. Throughout the film, Sullivan learns those important lessons of accepting the “uncool” and that friendship is more important than social status. It uses a few cliche plot devices here and there, but manages to still feel genuine.
There were definitely some elements that I really appreciated about the film, that would normally have gone in a more unrealistic direction were it any other film. Such as the end of the film, instead of the screenwriters just simply handing Mike and Sully high level jobs at Monsters Inc. (because life is a silver platter according to 95% of kids films), the two characters were given low paying mail room jobs, and through a brief montage are shown genuinely working hard up the Monsters Inc. ladder from Mail Room, to Janitors, up and up and up until they rightfully earned their jobs as Scarers. Another good example is how despite the dean of MU giving them the old “you surprised me and I’m proud of you” approval speech, the two characters still must deal with the negative repercussions of an event that happens prior. Both of these are important life lessons for kids to see, and one that Pixar has shown are capable of doing so well.
As usual, proceeding Monsters University is a brand new Pixar short titled The Blue Umbrella that tells of a Blue Umbrella who sets eyes on a nearbye Red Umbrella and immediately falls in love, but is kept apart during a heavy rainstorm and other events. The most impressive aspect of the short, is it’s animation. It wasn’t until the end of the short that I realized the entire thing wasn’t a live action piece with some digital animation added in. I can’t think of any other Pixar film or short that looked as photorealistic as The Blue Umbrella. It’s truly a marvel. Not to mention, that per Pixar’s norm, the short somehow manages to bring out the waterworks within the piece’s five minute run time. I can already smell an Oscar Short Form nomination.
So while Monsters University might not be as great as the film that it’s acting as a prequel for, it still acts as a much needed improvement over the last two Pixar Disappointments. It would be nice to see the animation studio stop feeling like they have to rely on sequels and prequels to be succesful, as they’ve been doing of late, but at least University is a step in the right direction, quality wise. When looking in hindsight at the film’s short-comings, all you can really say to yourself is, “At least it’s not Cars 2.”
I give Monsters University a 4 out of 5.
By Richard Pepper