For Pixar’s 14th animated feature, they are departing from traditional Pixar and attempting something new: a prequel. Sequels yielded mixed success for Pixar in the past, with Toy Story 2 and 3 breaking records for the still-young company, while 2011’s Cars 2 proved otherwise. Monsters University brings back Mike and Sully, two of Pixar’s most beloved mascots, and tells us the story of how they first met at Monsters University. MU is one of the most delightful Pixar films of date, and, though it doesn’t stray far from the college buddy formula, it is still an enjoyable watch for both kids and parents alike.
Monsters University starts with a flashback. Mike Wazowski, everyone’s favorite one-eyed green ball, is on a school field trip to Monsters, Inc., a company within Monstropolis that harvests children’s screams for alternate energy. Mike’s dream from that day on is to become a scarer, so eventually he enrolls at MU, where he is determined to pass through the scare program with flying colors and become a top scarer. It’s here that Mike meets Sully, and, through unfortunate circumstance, the two are kicked out of the scare program by the dean, Dean Hardscrabble. She is giving them one last chance, however, and the duo must win the campus-wide Scare Games in order to be let back into the scare program. The two join the team of fraternity Oozma Kappa, which introduces some new lovable characters, but they are certainly the underdogs in what is determining the rest of their lives.
Monsters U has a pretty formulaic premise, but that’s not a big deal here. We’ve seen all kinds of college movies like this, where the underdogs must become the heroes. Luckily, Pixar presents it in such a way so that it doesn’t become cookie-cutter. For starters, Monsters U isn’t like any other university. Every monster is unique, even if they follow college stereotypes. Every building, professor, and campus event has the Pixar flourish to it that makes Monsters U a detailed and enjoyable experience, encouraging repeat watches to notice all of the little things. Frisbees fly over the quad, the parties are off the hook, and the Greek Life at MU is awesome. Pixar is always all about the details, and in MU it’s no different.
Mike and Sully are the stars of the movie here. Mike is determined, and studies hard, but the problem is, he’s just not scary. Sully, on the other hand, has it all. He was born scary, and carries the Sullivan name. However, he’s a slacker. At first, the two are rivals, as Mike studies hard to pass the scaring final while Sully wings it. And Sully has a reputation to live up to with his father, and his fraternity, Roar Omega Roar. Sully is in the popular crowd, and must join forces with Mike and Oozma Kappa if he wants a shot at becoming a top scarer. This dynamic between the two main characters is perfect, and it’s what drives the film emotionally. Almost everyone can relate to Mike and Sully’s struggle. We’ve all been there, where you’re working hard for what you want while others just cruise through. Pixar has always been known for their life lessons, and Monsters U carries one of the best ones. It doesn’t have one of the biggest emotional impacts, but it’s still an enjoyable comedy tale.
The new characters add a new flavor to the monster world. Dean Hardscrabble, voiced with great strictness by Helen Mirren, is the film’s main sort-of-villain. She’s the one who kicks the two out of the scare program. But she does have heart, and gives the two a second chance. She isn’t as complex as Mr. Waternoose from the first film, but she is darn creepy, and she fits right in as the school’s dean. Randall is also back. He goes by Randy this time, and is Mike’s first roommate. He doesn’t have much time on-screen here, but still provides some laughs as he has his own storyline as he transitions from nerd to popular. The rest of the main characters lie in the fraternity Oozma Kappa. These guys are straight A-losers, and they are the misfits of MU. The movie manages to make them lovable and very memorable characters by the end, due to all of their endearing and interesting personalities. Don is a middle-aged man going back to school, and the founding member of OK. Terri and Terry are a two-headed monster with conflicting personalities. Squishy is a nervous softy, and the fraternity lives at his mom’s house, which provides for some of the movie’s best laughs. And Art is a free-spirited philosophy major. All of these characters give Monsters U a new flavor, and help it move out of the shadow of its predecessor.
Monsters University is a beautiful film. Like I said, it’s filled with many little details that will make you want to watch again. The animation this time around has never been better. All of the monsters look gorgeous, and MU looks like a real college campus. New lighting effects add new animation techniques, and once again, Pixar is on top of their game in terms of animation. The soundtrack recycles some great jazzy tunes from the first film, especially when the group visits Monsters, Inc. The new songs fit right in as Pixar classics, using college fanfares as well as some quieter emotional songs.
Monsters University isn’t going to blow you away like Toy Story 3 or Up did. Rather, it’s one of the most enjoyable Pixar movies to date, offering some of most unique and funniest characters Pixar has ever created, all while displaying a school rivalry that everyone can relate to. It’s not emotionally draining either, so everyone can enjoy the film thanks to some smart humor and its quirky Pixar-style.