Director: Dan Scanlon
Starring: John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Nathan Fillion, Steve Buscemi, Aubrey Plaza, Bobby Moynihan
Rating: A giant, Sulley-sized A, which converts to a 4 and a half out of 5; don’t let the merchandising and high Pixar expectations fool you that this movie is anything less than heartwarming, fun, and smart in its own right.
A big question hit me before actually seeing Monsters University– I mean, ticket-in-hand before, Pixar-logo before. And that question was, can I see this movie objectively? Will I be blinded by childhood nostalgia or my feverish obsession with the characters? Can a Monsters, Inc. fan girl wearing a Sulley tee shirt and toting an iPhone with a Mike case straight from the Disney store say anything BUT praise for a movie she has been waiting 12 years for?
The answer is… Well, complicated. I say that because if I tell people I loved it, which SPOILER ALERT I did, they might think it’s just my bias talking.
I’m going to do my best to not let that happen, though, so hear me out and I promise I’m being more reliable than you might assume.
Let us begin at the beginning: Mike as a small monster child. We see, somewhat crucially I would argue, that he didn’t have many friends as a youngster on a field trip to Monster’s, Inc. We see immediately where his drive to be a scarer comes from, as well as why he is thought of as incapable. This is the very core of the film, beyond seeing how he and Sulley become friends. So, to those who may have thought this was a pull for Pixar in the direction of Cars-esque merchandising and away from originality, intelligence, and heart, I say I don’t agree… at least not fully, or with nearly as much fervor as others may.
The heart of the film, first, comes from the underdog plot which is not only funny but truly carries a message and moral weight that is totally in line with that found in the original. Okay, sure, what is the point of having this movie at all if we’ve already come to the realization in the original that laughter is more powerful than scaring? To that question, the only answer I could really offer would be that it’s purely entertaining. I feel as though Pixar has built itself up to a caliber of quality storytelling that, while admirable, can be limiting.
The humor in Monsters University is no less smart and creative than in any other Pixar film, but after heavy handed hits like Up and Wall-E, I can understand the let down that a film like Monsters University can be for some. As a college student though, the jokes about college even in this colorful, fictional monster world were relatable and fun. I think just because a story is simple doesn’t mean it’s bad or worthless. I sometimes miss the early days of Pixar where the kind of tale being spun here could be respected to the extent that it deserves to be, riding only on the brilliant animation and beloved characters.
So, no, it’s not the most original film they have made, but it isn’t meant to be, perhaps. It’s a clever and creative prequel that makes wonderful references to the original and answers questions that maybe none of us were asking. But that shouldn’t mean the questions are moot, especially not when having them answered is as enjoyable as I feel it was. I think if you’re a fan of the original film, its predecessor, you will have a good time with Monsters University. I don’t deny the validity of those aspects which have been criticized, I just don’t think they’re really all that hindering is all.
And lastly, the Pixar shorts top each other consistently; this one, The Blue Umbrella, is perhaps the most poignant and beautifully executed one yet, proving the storytelling nature of film sans spoken word even today.