Monsters University takes us back to college. Becoming the only prequel made by Pixar. With the exception of Brave, Pixar was putting almost all their attention into continuations of older work. Along with Toy Story 3, a sequel to Monsters, Inc. was one of the three projects being developed by Disney’s thankfully defunct Circle 7 animation studio. The original sequel was titled Monsters, Inc. 2: Lost in Scaradise. It would have featured Mike & Sulley visiting Boo and ending up trapped in the human world. Then Disney purchased Pixar and you know the rest. Although a sequel would have been interesting, there’s really no other way to go but backwards.
Monsters University asks questions about the monster world that are just as relatable as our world. Turns out everything about college is the same just with minor monstrous differences. Monsters University came out at just the right time since I was 18 and fresh out of high school. Needless to say, a continuation of Monsters, Inc. peaked my interest more than a sequel to Cars. Since I have very fond memories of seeing the first movie 12 years ago when I was 6. Can’t say I was expecting a college themed prequel, but I was just happy to be seeing these fun monsters again. Storyboard artist Dan Scanlon became the director and certain creative liberties had to be taken. Resulting in a major plot hole. Monsters University wasn’t Oscar nominated, but it’s enough just to be O.K…
Monsters University advances its computer animation alongside its short The Blue Umbrella. A cute photorealistic umbrella love story where everything has a creepy face. Monsters University refined its animation with more realistic lighting techniques. Thanks to global illumination, lighting no longer had to be done manually. Monsters retain their creative, colorful designs, but advancements in technology made it easier to make as many monsters as they wanted. All with their own unique looks similar to those seen in Monsters, Inc. Although it was a buddy picture, Sulley was really the bigger star of the first movie. This time Mike Wazowski gets most of the attention. We follow his grade school days as just an adorable little eyeball no one takes seriously. Mike takes a field trip to Monsters, Inc. The first of many callbacks to the former setting.
A scare graduate of Monsters University gives Mike some words of encouragement after he sneaks into a child’s door. So Mike makes it his life’s mission to become the world’s greatest scarer. Most of the respectable middle aged cast of Monsters, Inc. returns, but they all had to sound like young adults. Specifically Billy Crystal, John Goodman, and Steve Buscemi. Randy Newman also returns to score, but he doesn’t bring any original songs. The cast is joined by even more respectable actors that can fill a campus. Monsters University is a rare G rated college movie. All the Greek life and partying is there, but everything else is cleaned up. Which didn’t stop the movie from following a lot of college movie clichés. Monsters University is your average looking college with those monster appropriate differences I mentioned. It has everything from door making to canister building.
Mike majors in scaring and thus joins the scare program. Alfred Molina voices the dinosaur-like Professor of Scaring 101. A class where you learn all the technical aspects of scaring and finish with a simulated demonstration. Mike thinks his roommate will be his lifelong best friend, but it turns out to be his creepy future enemy Randall Boggs. Who was once the dorky Randy Boggs. It turns out Mike is the one who gave him his squint after he tells him to ditch the glasses. Only in scare class does Mike first catch sight of James P. Sullivan (or Jimmy Sullivan). The major plot hole I mentioned is the off handed remark Mike made in Monsters, Inc. about knowing Sulley since 4th grade. Rather than make Monsters Elementary, they just decided to ignore continuity. Since college was a better place to meet lifelong friends.
Well one of Pixar’s best unlikely buddy duos first started out as rivals. Mike benefits from knowing everything there is to know about scaring, but suffers from not being scary himself. Sulley benefits from being a naturally scary legacy with a famous father, but suffers from being too confidant to try. They officially meet for the “first time” after Sulley swipes Fear Tech’s monster pig. When Mike helps him retrieve it, the top Fraternity Roar Omega Roar take notice of Sulley. Nathan Fillion is your standard preppy college rival with R.O.R. president Johnny J. Worthington III. While the closest thing to a villain is winged centipede monster Dean Hardscrabble. You’d think she’d just be a typical meddling Dean, but she’s given a bit more depth with Helen Mirren’s performance. When Mike & Sulley’s competition results in the Dean’s prized scare canister being destroyed, they’re both expelled from the program.
It’s then that Mike realizes competing in the school’s annual “Scare Games” is his only shot back in. So he makes a deal with Hardscrabble that he can win or else leave MU. Mike joins the loser Fraternity Oozma Kappa and Sulley as well when they’re down a teammate. Along with the leads and a running slug, Oozma Kappa are what help make Monsters University one of the funniest movies Pixar’s made in awhile. They consist of the middle aged tentacle armed Don Carlton, two headed brothers Terri & Terry, weirdo leg monster Art, and squishy mama’s boy Scott Squibbles. In fact, their Frat house is just his embarrassing mom’s house. Mike & Sulley reluctantly accept membership, but continue to compete against each other. Even when the games officially start. Several other unique Fraternities and Sororities compete along with Roar Omega Roar. Something Randall joins after ditching Mike to be cool.
The first game is a race to avoid toxic children’s toys. Something O.K. nearly loses when they don’t work together. They advance when another team is eliminated and Mike works harder on the next one. The second game is all about sneaking around to avoid waking parents. Represented by a giant angry librarian. Sulley nearly costs them again, but they work together to secure a victory. They’re invited to a party (where you can see a Pizza Planet truck) and finally think they’re cool enough. Then reality hits them when it was all just a cruel joke. Mike takes it as an opportunity to rebuild the team with an unauthorized trip to Monsters, Inc. They see all sorts of scarers and Mike & Sulley finally bond over their shared love of monster card collecting. Mike puts his knowledge to good use by training the team in each following game. The third game is an obstacle course to scare kids instead of teenagers and the fourth game is all about hiding in plain sight.
Mike turns the team into a well oiled machine, but the Dean gives Sulley doubts about Mike’s scariness. The final game pits O.K. against R.O.R. and everyone including Mike pulls off an effective scare. Randall even develops his rivalry with Sulley. It’s the perfect victorious ending, but it takes an unexpected turn. SPOILER ALERT! Turns out Sulley cheated to help Mike and he feels so betrayed that he enters a human door just to prove his worth. It turns out to be a camp cabin where the kids aren’t afraid of Mike. The door is taped off, but Sulley runs in after Mike. Discovering him alone after the cabin was cleared out. Although it’s not as emotional as the first movie, they do have a tear worthy heart to heart. Revealing how they truly feel and officially becoming best friends. In order to escape, Mike sets up a scare for the incoming police so terrifying that Sulley manages to activate the door and fuel all the canisters right in front of the Dean. Roz and the CDA make a brief appearance when they’re removed from the explosive aftermath.
Reality sets in again when they’re expelled, but at least they’ve helped Oozma Kappa learn some self confidence. Mike & Sulley part ways at first, then Sulley makes Mike realize training someone is just as important as doing something yourself. A good lesson for anyone to learn. The Dean leaves them with admiration and Mike & Sulley instead apply to work in the mailroom at Monsters, Inc. The only time John Ratzenberger is heard as the pre-banished Abominable Snowman. Mike & Sulley start from the bottom and work their way up in a matter of minutes. Where we see photos of Mr. Waternoose, Celia, and their first day as scarers. It almost makes the entire movie seem pointless, but it was never about how they got to Monsters, Inc. Just like college, Monsters University is all about believing in what you’re best at and forging special bonds along the way.
Followed by: Monsters, Inc.