A fun, if disappointingly throwaway prequel to the 2001 classic…
Did Monsters Inc. need a sequel? The quick answer is, of course, no. Monsters Inc. told an emotionally satisfying and conceptually cohesive story that not only provides closure for its protagonists, but also the masterfully realised fictional society in which they operate.
Now, unless you’re one of the four people who have never seen Monsters Inc.you’ll already know the twist that occurs two thirds of the way through the film but just in case SPOILERS from here on out. You’ve been warned.
Okay? Good, well during Monsters Inc. it’s established that though children’s screams are an efficient source of energy for Sully and Mike’s monster society, laughter proves to be much more sustainable, the film ending with their infrastructure and main job market altered dramatically to accommodate this new, less damaging energy source.
Monsters University, which acts as a prequel, has Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) competing with one another to become the University’s best scarer, a profession that anyone who has watched the original film knows is based on a massive lie. This sort of sucks a lot of the tension and heart from the film when we, as the audience, know that the goals of our protagonists are ultimately futile.
That aside, Pixar has managed to craft a genuinely funny college movie that just happens to star CGI monsters. The jocks are mean, the nerds are lovable (Joel Murray‘s late-in-life student and Charlie Day‘s hyperactive stoner are definite standouts), the lecturers are authoritarian squares and the little guy aches to become the coolest guy in school.
This time round the role of protagonist has switched from Sully to Mike, the diminutive cyclops channeling Revenge Of The Nerds‘ Gilbert Lowell, a plucky dweeb using his wit to beat the rich kids at their own game. Starting college to fulfil his lifelong dream of becoming a professional scarer, Mike soon begins to butt heads with Sully, a naturally talented student coasting on his family name and imposing physique. A dust-up during a lecture sees them both expelled, entering themselves and their dorky fraternity into a scaring competition to win back their place at the university.
While the decision to have Mike as the protagonist of this underdog story was an inspired one, the use of the slapstick heavy competition as the lion’s share of the film was less smart. While Monsters Inc had its fair share of clowning, there was a point to a lot of it; Mike injuring himself to make Boo laugh, Sully falling over himself to keep her from harm – there was a sense of character-building behind the farce.
Indeed, it’s this sense of hollowness that really stymies Monsters University more so than even the inevitable comparisons with Monsters Inc. Without Boo the film lacks the heart and dynamism of the original and Sully and Mike’s budding bromance isn’t given enough focus to fill the void. There’s no real antagonist to speak of apart from a group of mostly-harmless jocks and much of the conflict stems from Mike and Sully’s doomed ambition to become scarers.
It makes for a funny, but ultimately forgettable, addition to Pixar’s increasingly disappointing roster. Roll on Cars 3…
Monsters University was released in the UK on 5 June and opens in US cinemas on 21 June 2013.