After what many considered to be two “misses” for Pixar standards, the multi-award winning studio returns to form with their newest offering, “Monsters University”. In a risky move, Pixar decided to make a prequel to their incredibly successful 2001 film, “Monsters, Inc.,” rather than develop a sequel.
A while sequels have to live up to the hype of being as good, if not better than the original, prequels have an even greater challenge: they need to be as good and need to make sense in the overall story arc. And fortunately, “Monsters University” delivers. Now don’t get me wrong, while this story features the same lovable main characters, it is a very different film in both look and tone. Whereas “Monsters, Inc.” shows how two adult characters can adapt to a new and frightening situation, “Monsters University” puts these same characters back in their young adult lives, struggling to discover who they truly are. It was a welcomed change and a creative move that felt appropriate, rather than continuing the story arc from the first film in the way the “Toy Story” sequels did.
The film reunites Billy Crystal and John Goodman as Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan. After more than a decade since we last saw them, we are reintroduced to characters we only thought we knew. Instead of Mike playing the supporting, non-scarer role, we meet an energetic individual who is convinced that he will be the next top scarer at Monsters U. And in contrast to the very focused and work-centric Sully of yesteryear, we meet a slimmer, yet lackadaisical and arrogant James who plans to ride the coattails of his family name. This complete shift in personality makes the outcome of the film unpredictable, and the character development feel natural.
“Monsters University” is an incredibly diverse school, filled with a slew of new characters, many of which are important to the plot and help the lead characters identify who they truly are. The most stand-out new character by far is Dr. Abigail Hardscrabble, Dean of the School of Scaring, voiced by the incomparable Helen Mirren. A mix of dragon and bat with the body of a millipede, her appearance and movement is a bit on the terrifying side, matched only by her ice-cold voice and demeanor. She truly sells this character as a legend in the scaring world who is completely set in her ways, unwilling to see potential in other areas besides her expertise.
Returning to the cast, although not as prominently featured, is Steve Buscemi as Randall Boggs. Although this time, like Mike and Sully, Randall is a nerdy freshman just trying to prove himself amongst other Scaring students. But joining the voice talents, in a variety of roles at Monsters U, are Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Charlie Day, Joel Murray, Peter Sohn, Alfred Molina, Nathan Fillion, Aubrey Plaza, Tyler Labine, John Krasinski, Bonnie Hunt, Bobby Moynihan, Julia Sweeney, Frank Oz and of course, John Ratzenberger. This diverse cast adds a great deal of comedy, and also heart to this story of self discovery.
Monsters University itself in an amazing feat in animation. The viral marketing accompanying this movie creates one of the most realistically unreal locations in an animated movie. From the main campus, library and quad, to the individual departments’ buildings, to the Frat Row and Amphitheater. All of these new environments are rich in detail and draw from the familiar whilst being unique in the monster world. And the film does an excellent job revisiting some places that we may have seen before in “Monsters, Inc.,” while also giving nods to some other monster movie settings.
Overall, what I truly enjoyed most about “Monsters University” was its realistic message about life expectations. Sometimes, we fail in life. Sometimes things just are not meant to be and dreams do not come true. But what the message of the film seemed to portray is how one handles themselves in that moment. Do you give up and quit? Do you persevere and overcome the situation? Or do you realize that your potential may be best suited elsewhere? We ultimately know that Mike and Sully end up working at Monsters, Inc. But their journey to get there is defined who they are, and why they were meant to be together.
I highly recommend the film, and be sure to check out MonstersUniversity.com beforehand to discover one of the most brilliantly designed viral marketing campaigns ever.