Pixar fan-people will tell you that the Disney owned art-house has shown time and time again that their pudding has plenty of artistic proof (the Cars franchise notwithstanding), and Monsters University stands as the company’s latest example of having their cake and eating it too, but in the best possible way.
Monsters University is Pixar’s first prequel, and it begins by rewinding the franchise even before Mike and Sulley’s college years, all the way to elementary school with an adorably young Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) on a field trip to the ultra-familiar scaring facility, Monsters Inc. It is here that Mike decides that he was born to be a scarer, which leads us to his first day in the prestigious scaring program at the esteemed Monsters University.
From the get-go, Pixars’ fingerprints are instantly recognizable within the animation itself. There’s a soothing sense of familiar awe that settles in around Pixar films, and Monsters University passes the “is it Pixar-Pixar” test after the first fifteen minutes. The cleverness, the wit, the heart, it’s all there. You can exhale now. It’s Pixar.
For the majority of the film, we’re on the MU campus, and the film takes delight in playing off of classic college archetypes at every twist and turn. The trailer made it seem broad and obvious, but there’s a bundle of fun to be had here, and the creature designs are such perfect caricatures of recognizable college personalities that you should be able to recognize a few of your friends right off the bat.
We also see the return of many familiar faces from Monsters Inc., including (but not limited to) Mike’s future-best-friend James Sullivan (John Goodman). Due to a botched first impression between the two, it seems that they are quickly becoming enemies, but after a devastating and hasty ruling set down by Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), they must work together to win the university-wide Scare Games and reclaim their place in the scaring program.
The premise of the Scare Games makes for pretty standard fare, but luckily scoring first place isn’t only one goal that the duo and their teammates have to endure. Although the plot firmly follows Mike’s journey to find himself, Monsters University is split into three very distinct segments, each with its own purpose and goal. The Scare Games eat up a fair amount of screen time, and they certainly function as the main source of action, but it’s also where Monsters University stumbles into typical territory.
By the turn into the third act though, the film brings it home and delivers an unexpectedly timely message that resonates specifically to an audience that needs to remain fearless in the face of an insurmountable challenge. Monsters University certainly faced its own challenge in trying to stand up to its predecessor, and although it doesn’t quite reach the bar that was set by Monsters Inc., it manages to relish in what it is, and almost takes a kind of pride in it. Anyone who has seen Monsters Inc. knows the path that Mike and Sulley eventually end up on, but the story of how they got there proves to be just as interesting and unique.
Monsters University opens in theaters on June 21, 2013.
John Goodman and Billy Crystal lend their voices to Mike and Sulley in Monsters University, and in a recent press conference attended by Hypable, they reveal that they too were misfits in college.
We at Hypable had to wonder what a Monsters Inc. prequel and other Pixar films would sound like if they were written by Aaron Sorkin.
Want to quench your Monsters University thirst and see that adorable child version of Mike above in action? Check out the latest trailer right here.