Prior to Monsters University most audiences will be lucky enough to see the newest short from Pixar – The Blue Umbrella. It’s the least Pixar short of the series in terms of its photo-realistic design, but also somehow completely Pixar too. I don’t want to give anything away, but there is a definite connection between the world of the Umbrellas and Monstropolis.
It’s been 12 years since Monsters, Inc first made audiences fall in love with a short one-eyed monster and his giant fluffy blue friend. The kids that saw that film in theaters then have since grown up and are ready to introduce another generation of kids to the world of Monstropolis. But rather than making a sequel, Pixar decided to set the next film in the past.
“One of the challenges with a prequel is that by definition, everyone knows how the story ends. So it can be difficult to uncover the drama because we already know everything’s going to work out. It’s hard to define those stakes. You have to learn something new about the characters—which we ultimately do in ‘MU.’,” said director Dan Scanlon.
Where Monsters, Inc was mostly about Sulley’s journey, Monsters University focuses on Mike’s. It’s also a story of how two rivals came to become the best of friends. The good news is that it delivers on those stories and more.
“Setting the story at the time when Mike Wazowski is first venturing into the world by himself allowed us to delve into his journey of self-awareness, experiencing with him the fun, the ups and downs, the friendships and the revelations that come with growing up.” Scanlon explained.
This is where Pixar gets clever. It could have been a simple buddy film set during college with a “revenge of the nerds” backdrop. But Pixar always takes it a couple levels deeper than that.
Mike and Sulley both learn some hard lessons. They think they’re unstoppable, that their dreams and goals are just out there waiting for them to snatch them. But reality often has a way of getting in the way. Although Monsters University is definitely set in the monster world, its laws are very much like our own.
The beauty of the film is watching how this happens.
Of course the rest of the film is beautiful too. It’s very cinematic and the setting of Monstropolis, with its doors and windows echoing faces and monster characteristics popping up everywhere. And there is the supporting cast. Randall, the camouflage salamander that was Boo’s monster in the first film, makes an appearance and we learn how his rivalry with Sulley developed. Then there are the characters of Oozma Kappa.
I think Pixar’s animators felt a lot of affinity with this motley bunch. They’re all appealing, but I’m particularly enamored with Art (the arched shaped purple one) and Scott “Squishy” Squibbles (the multi-eyed gelatinous monster). Pixar’s Peter Sohn (Emile in Ratatouille and Russell in Up) really nails Squishy. Art is the ‘free spirit’ of the fraternity and adds a lot of humor with his outbursts.
Pixar has once gain found a way to insert fun and story in a way that all ages can enjoy. The usual movie tropes are all there, but what Pixar does with them is unique. At 110 minutes, plus the previews and short, it may stretch the attention span of some younger viewers during one lull in the third act, but everything picks up again for a great ending.
Finally, do stick around for the credits. They’ve done an amazing job with them again and there is a humorous little scene at the very end too. Oh yeah, one last thing. If you’re looking for the disco ball scene that Disney used to promote the film? It’s not in the movie. Don’t ask me why. But I was a little disappointed since it featured so heavily in the trailers.
Okay, that’s really minor. Go see Monsters University, seriously.