Monsters University

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

A young monster named Michael “Mike” Wazowski dreams of being a scarer (a monster who enters the human world at night to scare children so their screams can be harvested for energy) when he grows up, after visiting Monsters Inc.—Monstropolis’ most profitable and best-known scaring company—on a school field trip. Eleven years later, Mike is a first-year scare major at Monsters University, where he meets his new roommate, Randall “Randy” Boggs, and a large, blue, furry monster named James P. “Sulley” Sullivan.

Mike studies hard, while the privileged Sulley—who comes from a talented family of scarers—relies on his natural scaring ability and begins to falter. As the semester progresses, Mike and Sulley attempt to join a fraternity as pledges, but only Sulley gets into Roar Omega Roar. At the final exam for Scaring 101, Dean Abigail Hardscrabble fails them both and drop them from the program, stating that Sulley doesn’t study enough and Mike is not at all scary, prompting Roar Omega Roar to remove Sulley from their team. Mike decides to prove himself by entering the Scare Games, but Oozma Kappa—the only fraternity that was removed from the program—is denied entry as they are one team member short. Seeing the competition as his ticket back into the scare program, Sulley joins and Mike reluctantly accepts.

Oozma Kappa fails the first challenge, an obstacle course where the contestants dodge harmful, glowing “urchins,” but miraculously advances when another team is disqualified for using protection gel, which violates the Scare Games rules. Oozma Kappa places second in the second challenge, where the contestants have to avoid disturbing the librarian from her reading. The contestants attend Roar Omega Roar’s party where the other competitors humiliate and discourage Oozma Kappa. Mike arranges a secret visit to Monsters, Inc. to lift their spirits, but Sulley still doubts that Mike can be a true scarer. In the final round, they pull off a close victory cemented by a final decisive scare by Mike in the simulation bedroom. Afterwards, Mike discovers that Sulley cheated to improve Mike’s score. Determined to prove he is capable of becoming a scarer, Mike breaks into the school’s door lab and enters a door to the human world, but the door leads to a summer camp and he is unable to scare a cabin full of children.

Back at the university, Sulley confesses to Hardscrabble that he cheated, just as she is notified of the break-in. Realizing what happened, Sulley enters the door to look for Mike. After finding and reconciling with him, they try to return but they find they are trapped in the human world because Hardscrabble has deactivated the door while waiting for the authorities to arrive. Mike realizes that the only way to get back into the monster world is to generate enough scream energy to power the door from their side. Working together, Sulley and Mike terrify the adults, generating an overwhelming amount of scream energy and allowing them to return to the lab.

Their actions lead to their expulsion from the university, but the other members of Oozma Kappa are accepted into the scare program the next semester because Hardscrabble is impressed with their performance in the games. They share goodbyes and as Sulley and Mike leave, Hardscrabble tells them they are the first to have surprised her and wishes them good luck in the future. Mike and Sulley begin work at Monsters, Inc. in the company mailroom under the mailroom manager, the Abominable Snowman. Working their way up through the company, the two eventually become part of the Scarer Team, thus setting the events of Monsters, Inc. in motion.

REVIEW:

Pixar was once the gold standard for computer animation, but they’ve been on a bit of a downward spiral of late, so they decided to go back to the well and do a prequel to one of their most popular films, Monsters, Inc. This is where we get Monsters University, but there are two questions we all have. Could the prequel live up to the original and is this film going to continue the downward spiral of Pixar.

What is this about?

This prequel to Pixar’s popular animated tale Monsters Inc. once again features eccentric monster pals Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan. Set during their college days, the film tells the strange and amusing tale of how the pair became friends.

What did I like?

Evolution. There are two ways to look at how the animation has improved since we originally saw Mike and Sully. First, look at how much better their younger selves look compared to the older versions of years passed. As time has passed, Pixar has refined their animation style, which is why these characters look so much better and move smoother than they did originally. Second, take a gander at the backgrounds. The detail in the grass on the field, the books in the library, the stones on the buildings/floors are something to behold, much like the way Sully’s fur took our breath away in the original.

Voices carry. Aside from the returning voices, we get new characters. The two antagonists obviously stand out, especially to me as they are two of my favorite actors. First, there is the president of Roar Omega Roar, a scaring fraternity, who is voiced by Nathan Fillion. Fillion gives this character a smug demeanor, very similar to the his counterpart in Revenge of the Nerds. Second, there is the Dead of the Scarer program, who is voiced by Helen Mirren. Before I get into her voice, I have to mention the design of this character. Waternoose in the first film was a little scary, but it was obvious they just missed and matched some parts to create him. Dean Hardscrabble literally could appear in a horror film and give you nightmares. Helen Mirren gives her the headmistress voice she deserves, scary, firm, and in charge.

Getting it right. As you can imagine, there are plenty of references to characters we see in the original, but none of these are overdone. Everything seems to gel just right and nothing seems forced into the mythology, for lack of a better term. I have to commend these writers for that. There are many prequel films that have not been able to accomplish that feat.

What didn’t I like?

Original. I didn’t get the same sense of originality and wonder here as I did with the first film. As a matter of fact, it felt like a watered down version of Revenge of the Nerds in more places than I would have liked. Realizing that it is hard to do the underdog college fraternity story these days without the inevitable comparison to the nerds, I just felt that they didn’t need to stick so close to the “source material”.

Loose end. At the risk of spoiling anything, there is a scene where Mike and Sully get locked in the human world. Sound familiar? Well, the same thing happens in the original film, but under different circumstances. For me, I felt that this was a cop out and they couldn’t think of a better way to set up their close bond, not to mention make them pay for what they did in the games.

Joke. I don’t want to be that guy, but I really didn’t feel there was a need to have the older Oozma Kappa member hook up with one of the brothers’ mother. Making matters worse, in one of the final scenes, there is some rather odd wording that just seems out of place for a film like this. I won’t say what it is, and this is just a minor complaint, but it didn’t sit very well with me.

When I was at Disneyworld back in March, there were plenty of signs leading up to the release of Monsters University, such as the shrubbery cut in the shape of Mike, Sully, and even the entrance to Monsters U. At the time, I thought it was a bit much for a film that probably wasn’t going to be any good, but after seeing it tonight, I’m highly impressed and recommend this as a must-see. There haven’t been many films to blow me away this year, but this is one of them. Check it out as soon as you can!

5 out of 5 stars

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2 Responses to “Monsters University”

  1. […] chuckle to myself about Turbo. Think about that slug monster who was rushing to get to class in Monsters University but took the whole semester to get there. Think about what kind of film we’d have if he got […]

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