If you’ve been reading my reviews long enough, you know I have a beef with sequels. Generally, I try to avoid them because, well, they suck. My rule has always been “If you have to put a number after the title of the movie, then you shouldn’t make the movie.” (The exceptions, of course, are movies in trilogies or series where the other films continue the unfinished journey of the first film, like Star Wars).
My thoughts on prequels are similar. But with Monsters University, I was actually pretty excited. For one, Monsters Inc. is tied with Finding Nemo for my favorite Pixar film. And Pixar really hasn’t made terrible sequels. I mean, Toy Story 2 and Cars 2 were kind of meh story-wise, but they were still much better than most sequels. And hell, Toy Story 3 was downright amazing (I’m pretty sure I cried). So when Disney announced the prequel to Monsters Inc., I was like, “Yeah, sure. Why not?” Now for the real question: Did Monsters University live up to its predecessor? We’ll hit that up below. But first, the plot!
Here’s how Disney describes the plot: “Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan are an inseparable pair, but that wasn’t always the case. From the moment these two mismatched monsters met they couldn’t stand each other. Monsters University unlocks the door to how Mike and Sulley overcame their differences and became the best of friends.” (Author’s Note: I should stop relying on production companies for plots. They tell you nothing.)
Well, since Disney’s plot description was just unhelpful, I’m going to go ahead and sum this bad boy up for you. Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) has wanted to go to Monsters University ever since he was a child; James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) was expected to go to Monsters University because of his family’s scare legacy. Mike’s the student who studies hard but doesn’t have the talent; Sulley’s the student who has the talent but doesn’t give two shits about studying. And the two of them hate each other, the result of which starts a fight during their scare final that gets them both kicked out of the scaring program by Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren). But they unexpectedly unite during MU’s “Scare Games” and make a bet with Dean Hardscrabble that they can win with the help of the nerdy OK (Oozma Kappa) fraternity—and if they do, they’ll be allowed back into the scaring program.
First off, let’s talk Animal House references (Some of you might say that Monsters University is also like Revenge of the Nerds or The House Bunny, but those movies were based on Animal House, so I win). You’ve got the two freshmen opposites, they get into some trouble, the Dean gives them the boot, they make a bet that would let them stay, they join a nerdy fraternity, and they go up against a snobby fraternity. Which movie am I talking about? Oh, yeah. BOTH OF THEM. Did I mention that the snobby fraternity in Monsters University is called Roar Omega Roar (ROR)? That sounds oddly similar to Animal House‘s Omega fraternity, right? And all of the collegiate jokes! Stealing another school’s mascot, “pong” tournaments with Solo cups, the Greek system! Seriously. If you’re ever under the impression that these movies are written solely for kids, please return to this paragraph. Moving on…
Monsters University had a challenge its predecessor didn’t, and that was new development for old characters. As I explained in my Iron Man 3 review, the first film sets a new stage for characters we haven’t yet gotten to know, but the sequel (in this case, prequel) not only has to show us the same characters we now love, but it also has to deliver a new story that will push those characters to change just enough so we don’t feel like we’ve watched the same movie twice. Fortunately, the writers didn’t rest on their laurels and say, “Oh, the audience already knows Mike and Sulley, so we don’t really need to make them grow.” Instead, we got to see why Mike is the uptight, hard-working monster he is and why Sulley is the celebrated, laidback monster he is, as well as how they became friends before they started working for Monsters Inc. Now, that’s not to say we weren’t still given a few throwbacks to Monsters Inc. The writers made sure to show us the Monsters Inc. factory, and we even got to see Randall (before he turned evil) and Roz (who’s everyone’s favorite).
What I liked even more was that, although this movie’s message was all about friendship, there was a deeper message that we never see in movies—especially kids’ movies. That message came at the end of the film when Sulley cheated during the “Scare Games” and Mike nearly got both of them arrested after he went into the human world for a while. They actually got expelled from MU! But rather than complaining about their expulsion, Mike and Sulley decided to go work in the Monsters Inc. mailroom (where there’s always work). Yes, eventually, they make it to the scare floor, but only after they work as janitors, cafeteria workers, scream canister technicians, etc. THIS is the message we should be teaching kids. Not the “You’re so special, everything will always work out in your favor, and you’re too good to work at McDonald’s” message to which they’ve grown accustomed. Monsters University basically just told its audience, “Hey, tough shit. Sometimes, things don’t pan out, and you have to work a shitty job. But you need to put in time and effort for what you want, like the rest of us.” So awesome.
Do I really need to talk about how beautiful the animation or how fantastic the voice acting was? It’s Pixar. The end. So let’s talk about the music! Because, holy wow, Randy Newman created a kick-ass score for Monsters University. You could hear influences of the Monsters Inc. theme throughout the movie, sure, but the best part of the score was that it was styled after college pep band music. It makes me miss college football…
Overall, Monsters University was a funny and thoughtful film for a wide audience range that was as good as its predecessor. Quite frankly, I think the Animal House correlations are the funniest part of this movie, but there are plenty of jokes scattered throughout that are a total hit with both kids and adults. Everything about this movie was well-constructed: its look, its music, its character development, its jokes, its Monsters Inc. throwbacks. If you have kids, going to this movie should be a no-brainer. And if you don’t have kids but love animated films (like me!), then you’re in for a treat. My only complaint? I wish we would’ve gotten another Mike and Sulley fake a musical rehearsal scene, like the “Put that Kid Back Where It Came From, Or So Help Me” scene in Monsters Inc.