Welcome back Pixar.
“Monsters University” serves as a prequel to the 2001 movie “Monsers, Inc.” The film introduces us to the duo of Mike Wazowski (Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (Goodman) when they first meet as they begin their college careers at Monsters University. Unlike the first film though, where the two are best of friends, in this film they start out as rivals.
Mike wants to be a scarer just like Sullivan does, and the two go about it different ways. Mike studies everything there is about scaring through books while Sullivan just tries to ride on his natural abilities.
The two have to work together though after a series of events that leads them to competing in the university’s annual Scare Games. To be in the Scare Games the duo also has to join a fraternity and the only one available is Oozma Kappa, which is a group of misfits. Through leading the team through multiple trials, the duo has to learn how to work together and play off each other’s strengths.
The story of “Monsters University” appears to be really basic at first. Once again we are met with story of a group of misfits who have some talents but don’t know how to use them and have to work together to beat the mean know-it-alls that we’ve all seen before (I’m looking at you, The Internship). This time around though, the story of how Mike wants to stop at nothing to be a scarer and him learning to work together with Sullivan and the two becoming best friends is really compelling.
That friendship and Mike’s overall character arc works over a three act structure and the film just seems to get better and better as it goes along. In most prequels, you know for the most part what’s going to happen since it’s leading towards the original film. Here, however, despite being a predictable premise, the story itself has many moments that you don’t know how things will work out, especially with Mike’s story. There’s also a good theme in the film about learning what your strengths are and using them to where you want to go in life, something that plenty of college age people have to go through.
In the original film, Mike wasn’t the most likable character ever. While still being a loyal friend to Sullivan, he came across as just riding coattails. This film, though, shows exactly what an important asset Mike is to the two man team at Monsters Inc. Not only that, the movie also makes Mike out to be much more relatable and you can really root for him as he just never gives up.
This time around, Sullivan isn’t the main character being focused on, yet his contribution to the film is still great. He gets his own arc in a way, where he starts off as a fun loving, care-free freshman with no responsibility but eventually starts working towards the guy who we know from “Monsters Inc.”
The growth of the friendship between the two is also very strong in the film as the two characters, and the voice actors who play them, have good, believable chemistry, more so than some live action flicks.
In terms of supporting cast, the movie also excels. Helen Mirren plays a scary looking monster, serving as the Dean of Monsters University. She’s a frightening character and she plays the role nicely. Also making an appearance is “Monsters Inc.” villain Randall.
The film works in how Randall becomes who he is in the original film without putting too much focus on him and rehashing things. The members of the Oozma Kappa frat are also fun and make good additions to the series.
The humor in “Monsters University” works well for the most part, going back to Pixar basics. Last year, one of the problems I had with “Brave” was that so much of the humor was just simple slap stick. In this film, Pixar works in a lot of its old witty humor that their older films had, the humor that gave their movies charm. Not every single joke in the movie work, but there are plenty that do. Plus, there are some good sight gags and references to college life.
In terms of animation, as expected with a Pixar film, it is gorgeous. Everything looks very well done, the designs are unique and there is plenty of things going on in nearly every frame. Pixar does a lot of shots and cinematic techniques that other animated films don’t always do.
“Monsters University” is one of those films that in many ways surpasses the original. The story seems simple enough but it is elevated by a good character arc with Mike’s story.
Mike is a good protagonist here and you can really root for him, Sullivan’s growth in the movie is also good, the friendship that comes out of the film is believable and well done, the supporting cast are nice additions and the humor and animation is all at a high level. It’s not the best Pixar movie, but it is up there. High 4 out of 5.