I feel like Pixar may have missed the boat a little bit with this prequel to the fantastic Monsters, Inc. It is always a bit risky releasing a follow up so long after the original, and while Monsters University is still a lot of fun, it does fail to recapture the magic of the original. This is not really fair as the original was amazing, so even if the sequel had come out sooner, there would have been enormous expectations on it. I don’t hate this film, it just isn’t as good as the first (or many of Pixar’s other films) so feels like a bit of a letdown to me. There is also the problem of this not being a sequel to The Incredibles. Of all the Pixar films, Incredibles has been screaming out for a sequel. I really don’t understand how Monsters and Finding Nemo will be getting sequels before The Incredibles. It makes no sense to me at all, but enough about that, we are here to talk about Monsters University. So let’s do that.
Monsters University is a prequel to Monsters, Inc. It picks up with Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) starting college. Both are aiming to eventually be scarers at Monsters, Inc., leading to a rivalry between the pair. Wazowski has the book smarts, but lacks the practical skills of scaring, while Sulley is the opposite, being a great scarer but not as good with the theory. Obviously, we know the pair will eventually become great friends. This happens when they are forced to enter a scaring contest to save their college careers. The pair, along with a bunch of college outsiders, must work together to win the scare contest or they will be expelled.
I am going to go into spoilers for this film a little bit. I figured it’s ok as this is an animated film and it’s my blog, so suck it up. The end of the film sees Mike and Sulley kicked out of college. They are still determined to realise their dream so take an entry level job at in the Monsters, Inc. mail room. We all know that Sulley goes on to become one of the greatest scarers of all time with the help of his scaring assistant Mike Wazowski. I do like the idea that there are several ways to realise your dream if you persevere, but I feel like that message could get lost in the fact that a good education is not important. I get what the movie is trying to say, realise your dreams and whatnot, I just feel like it can so easily be misconstrued by young eyes as ‘we don’t need school, so why bother’. I know this is definitely not what Pixar intended, but it is an easy message to get mixed up.
That being said, this film is a lot of fun. Crystal and Goodman still have terrific chemistry together. Again, my favourite moments are their bantering throughout the film. I also liked the additional misfits they recruit to be in their scaring team. There is some terrific voice talent there, including Charlie Day, Sean Hayes and Dave Foley. All are welcome additions to this franchise, as are Helen Mirren as the scary dean and Nathan Fillion as a jock rival monster competing against Mike and Sulley.
As entertaining as this film is, it is certainly not in the same stratosphere as the original. I think that is what is most disappointing. Pixar had never really let me down before, as their only sequels I had seen were the Toy Story films, which seem to get better as the series goes on (note that I had not yet watched the Cars movies as I had, and still do not have, any interest in them). Monsters, Inc. was the first Pixar film that I felt let down. That’s not to say it was a bad movie, it just wasn’t as good as I have come to expect from the people at Pixar.
Pixar has a knack for throwing down life lessons that perfectly reflect the cultural atmosphere of their release dates. Finding Nemo warns against obsessive helicopter parenting, The Incredibles questions the “everyone’s special” mindset, and Monsters University advises that not everyone is meant for college.
This is an important statement to make, one that is directed more at the parents in the audience than their children. I met way too many students in college who should not have been there. Usually their parents pushed them into attending, or worse, insisted they get a “safe” degree that their kid was not interested in pursuing. They were generally unhappy. When I stopped seeing them around campus I assumed they had dropped out, something that was often verified by Facebook. Those that stuck it out seemed just as likely to be un- or under-employed after graduation whether they chose “safe” or “unsafe” majors.
Monsters University is a celebration of college life for sure, but it ends with it’s star characters, Mike and Sulley, getting expelled. The two take a job in the Monsters, Inc. mail room, working their way up to the scaring assistant and top scarer we know and love. The movie very clearly sends the message to parents that, hey, it’s not the end of the world if your kid doesn’t go to college. And I say that it’s speaking to parents, because kids are not going to get it until they are much older. During that time they’re going to experience a lot of external pressure from adults to go to college. Maybe if they’re parents are forced to watch MU enough when they’re young, it will eliminate some of this pressure.
Aside from the message, MU is a good film, just not one of Pixar’s best. I’m quite disheartened that they’ve been producing so many sequels of late. This studio’s sequels are of a higher standard than most, but I worry that this may not always be the case. Cars 2 was disappointing, but MU is lackluster compared to its predecessor. It was fun delving deeper in to the monster world and getting nostalgic for my college days, but if we must have Pixar sequels I’d rather wait for a second Incredibles.