“When I was in college,” the old monster said,
“We didn’t use laughter but screaming instead
To power our civilization, and so
Each monster who scared was a public hero.
“And where did they go hone their scaring art,
To learn how to quicken a young child’s heart,
To grasp the best method of siphoning screams
While working alone or together as teams?
“Where did they practice their skulking and creeping
And sneaking for when their young target is sleeping
So when the time’s right for the roaring and leaping,
They know that it’s just the right scream that they’re reaping?
“Where did they go? But of course, you all know.
The campus of MU, where scarers went pro.
Those were the days,” sighed the monster named Ed.
“Yeah, what he said,” said his own second head.
MPAA rating: G
After the disappointment of Cars 2, I was wary of any further Pixar sequels, or prequels in the case of Monsters University, a recounting of Mike and Sully’s wild college days and how they became friends. Even though I enjoy Monsters, Inc., I skipped its prequel at the theater, and the college concept didn’t give me much desire to see it. When I finally did, I was pleasantly surprised. Of course, it’s Pixar. Shame on me for doubting Pixar. It may not be their very best, but it’s a rare spinoff film that surprisingly holds its own with the original. My VC, who isn’t too fond of the original, actually loved Monsters University more.
Monsters, Inc. ended with a more or less satisfying conclusion so I see why they opted for a prequel. First, we go all the way back to an elementary field trip where little Mike gets to visit the scare floor from the first film, reinforcing his hero worship and attracting him to MU, Monsters University, the premier place for the next generation of scarers. When he finally arrives to the colorful campus, there’s a pleasant wink-wink of nostalgia with the arrival of Randall and Sully; we know that Randall will end up the bad guy and Sully the devoted friend, but seeing them in opposite roles that change over time is both intriguing and entertaining. Friendships aren’t always as straightforward as “Hi, let’s be friends” and neither are enemyships (yes, it’s a fake word), and Monsters University develops both in believably gradual fashion.
Mike and Sully are polar opposites, it seems. Mike is the underdog, forced to study hard to keep up with the more natural scarers, while Sully is the carefree frat boy content to coast on his family name and obvious talent. After a disastrous run-in with Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), the two are thrust together to reclaim their place at the school, which entails joining a loser fraternity called Oozma Kappa and competing in an intramural scaring competition.
Rarely does Pixar aim for the predictable, and this is no exception. Honestly, I highly doubt that the unexpected climax would have been the same had Dreamworks been in charge of production. All manner of animated and family films contain the message of believing in yourself and achieving your dreams with enough effort, and while Monsters University does too, there’s also the rare suggestion that not all dreams are feasible if your true talents lie elsewhere. In addition, it ignores the unspoken assumption that doing something good or impressive somehow washes away past transgressions; that’s a fairly common problem with many films (like how Captain Kirk from Star Trek has been in danger of court-martial more than once but always redeems himself with his heroics), and Monsters University doesn’t fall into it, making the result more realistic in the process.
I don’t know why I assumed Monsters University would be inferior. Perhaps the collegiate setting just didn’t interest me at the time, but it actually provided quite a bit of humor, from the various scaring studies to the madcap fraternity sports. Characters as lovable as Mike and Sully should only be revisited with a worthwhile story, and Pixar succeeded in that. It’s not a game-changer in animation like some of their best films, but it’s second-tier Pixar rather than third-tier. Compared with many of the animated movies out there, that’s certainly good enough for me.
Best line: (Art, mentioning his strengths) “I’ve got a third arm. Not with me, of course.”
Rank: List-Worthy (joining Monsters, Inc.)
© 2016 S. G. Liput
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