Over the years, Pixar’s animated films have tended to fall into two categories: Wonderful tales with surprising emotional depth that entertain the entire family (“Wall-E”, “Up,” “Toy Story 3”) and shallow misfires that the kids will still watch (“Cars 1 and 2”). Fortunately, most of their films fall into the first category, so much so that I am generally pretty disappointed when they fall short (e.g. “Brave”). “Monsters, Inc.” was definitely one of the good ones, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. I never thought it needed a sequel, though, let alone a prequel.
I was skeptical, then, when I heard about the prequel “Monsters University.” I figured it was just Pixar trying to cash in. After all, the heart of “Monsters, Inc.” is the love story between big, scary Sully and a three-year-old child. I figured the creators of the prequel would fail by trying to make basically the same movie minus the little kid. I was pleasantly surprised to see them take a completely different tack, telling a story about growing up, finding yourself, and making friends.
“Monsters University” tells the story of how Mike and Sully, the monsters from the first film, met in college and became a team. The tale is told from Mike’s perspective, as he pursues his lifelong dream to become a scarer, the esteemed monsters who slip into kids’ rooms at night to spook them and collect the scream energy that powers the monster world. Mike is an academic whiz, and he enters college ready to study his way to the top of the class. The problem is that Mike is, at the end of the day, just a big eyeball, and not that scary. Sully, on the other hand, strolls onto campus with the swagger of a star athlete. Big and hairy, he is naturally scary, but he is too lazy to study. Both get booted from the scarer program, and their only hope of getting back in is to join the nerdiest fraternity on campus and help them win the Greek Scare Games. Did I mention that Mike and Sully can’t stand each other, or that they eventually work through their differences to become fast friends? There aren’t a lot of surprises here. The story will be quite familiar to anyone who has seen “Revenge of the Nerds” or any of the many other movies where a group of misfits teams up to take on a bunch of jocks.
Lacking as it is in originality, the movie is still a barrel of fun. The movie works because, in the Pixar tradition, they take the time for real characterization and to make the characters’ actions make sense. I still think “Monsters, Inc.” is a slightly better movie, but “Monsters University” is a welcome addition to the story. It truly is fun for the whole family.
4 stars out of 5