Does the prequel to the 2001 classic make a passing grade?
In 2001, Pixar was tasked with delivering their first follow-up to the hugely successful sequel to Toy Story, giving us a movie that would have to cement Pixar as the studio that would be responsible for the next generation of Disney family classics.
We received Monsters Inc., which was a big hit and is widely regarded as one of Pixar’s best.
In a dimension removed from our own, “monsters” live in a pseudo-human society that is powered, literally, by the screams of children. To supply their world with continuous energy, monsters are in the business of harnessing these screams by walking into the human world via “doors” and scaring children.
The original movie gave us a scaring duo, Mike and Sully, who accidentally found themselves harboring a human child named Boo, which was troublesome since humans are considered “toxic” in the monster world. Mike and Sully subsequently uncover a massive conspiracy behind “Monsters Inc.,” alluding to the dangers of energy corporatism and the ills of oil as an energy source.
Don’t believe me? Think about it. The monsters eventually turn to a “better” resource by the end of the original movie that is superior in quality and gathering, an overt reference to green energy. Yeah, your childhood.
Going into Monsters University, a prequel to the original that details how Mike and Sully originally became friends, I couldn’t help but feel confused as to how we would be sold on rooting for “scaring” again, which is what we found to be “bad” in the first movie.
Also, where would the heart of this movie be without Boo?
Well, the movie goes to great lengths to address these problems, and with the original movie tying up all loose ends, they had no choice to go the prequel route, so I give Pixar a pass on that.
Monsters University is very much a movie about Mike Wazowski, in the way that Sully was really the central figure of Monsters Inc. Only this time, Mike serves as the heart and driving character of the movie, which actually works out.
Yes, the movie uncovers how he and Sully became unlikely friends, but it’s really more about how Mike, a less-than-frightening monster, goes to extreme lengths to “out-monster” his rivals through sheer determination and will. It’s an underdog story that uses its subsidiary characters to full advantage.
The movie begins with Mike Wazowski visiting “Monsters Inc.” as a child and deciding that he wants to be a “scarer” someday. Skipping forward, we learn that he has spent years obsessed with learning every possible technique for scaring there is, giving him the chance to enroll in Monsters University, a school that teaches monsters how to scare.
Mike quickly meets Sully, a jock coasting on his family name and physical appearance. Unlike Mike, Sully considers scaring to be nothing but emotion and raw talent, setting him up as the “Kirk” to Mike’s “Spock.”
The two eventually become hesitant allies in a series of events called the “Scare Games,” an all-or-nothing competition to prove they are the best “scarers” at the school. I won’t spoil it, but the stakes are actually pretty high leading up to their participation in these games, making this underdog story fun and exciting.
The surprise hits of this movie come in the form of Mike and Sully’s fraternity, Oozma Kappa (“OK”), a group of nerdy monsters that were the only fraternity that would take in our main characters.
I found myself enjoying their movie almost as much as Mike and Sully’s, which is actually a good thing. The monsters of OK were constantly stealing scenes and breaking up the drama between the main characters. Leave it to Pixar to throw us a curveball.
Also, if you haven’t noticed, Monsters University sets itself up as a family oriented Revenge of the Nerds mixed with that great Pixar heart we’ve all come to love.
Overall, the movie is hilarious and the way they wrapped things up was actually perfect in my view. Does it measure up to the original? Of course not, I doubt it ever could. But it knows that it’s a prequel and delivers as an almost-perfect prequel that will undoubtedly please kids and adults alike.
So yes, it is definitely worth watching.
P.S. the animated short following up the to the movie, “The Blue Umbrella”, was actually very disappointing and the first Pixar short that really fell flat for me. Don’t stress out if you miss it.