Monsters University Review: An Excellent Blend of Old and New

One of the most daunting parts of being a sequel is undoubtedly the task of having to either live up to or exceed the expectations put to it by the original film. And even if it might manage to do so, there’s always the risk that it wasn’t different enough or didn’t manage to capitalize on its full potential. Yes, it’s a troubled and difficult path, but it’s one that Monsters University succeeds with in a fitting and satisfying way.

Monsters University is a direct prequel to the 2001 hit Disney/Pixar film Monsters, Inc., in which we travel back in time to see the misadventures of both Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James Sullivan (John Goodman) in their college years.

The jump back in time reveals that the ambitious Mike has always had a strong desire to be a scarer, but continually struggles to prove himself as being a truly terrifying monster fit for a place like Monsters, Inc. Still, he sets off to the fabled university in hopes of graduating at the top of his class and achieving his goal despite the odds.

It’s there that he meets James Sullivan, the nonchalant big man on campus whose natural scaring ability and famed family name attracts the attention of the best fraternities and the strictest of teachers.

After Sully wins the admiration of the school’s top fraternity thanks to Mike’s ingenuity, the two become rivals and begin an escalating competition between each other that reaches a boiling point that sees them both being removed from the scare program due to poor final exam scores.

But a ray of hope presents itself in the form of the Scare Games, a series of tests related to scaring that pits the University’s sororities and fraternities against each other in order to prove which house has the most scare ability on campus.

Being that he needs to be a part of a fraternity in order to compete (and isn’t the most popular guy in school), Mike teams up with the house of Oozma Kappa, a fraternity made up of misfits and outcasts who didn’t manage to find their way into any of the more popular groups at MU.

Sully joins the fray at the last second as the team’s final member, and two launch into a last-ditch effort in order to get back into the scare program and prove once and for all that they have what it takes to be the best scarers the school has ever seen.

Probably one of the toughest challenges Monsters University faced was having to follow up the original film’s innovative premise. Truly, Monsters, Inc. is one of the most unique films in Pixar’s lineup and introduced us to an entirely new world that was just as much fun to behold as the actual story itself. Since Monsters University returns to this world that we’ve already experienced, it’s hard to argue that the task of making things just as interesting as the original isn’t a difficult one to tackle.

And although it wasn’t as groundbreaking as Monsters, Inc., Monsters University did provide some amusing and interesting insight into what college life is like for the students in this fictional world that was fun to witness.

On top of that, the quality of the writing in the film was on point. Dialogue is tailored brilliantly to each character and reflects the personalities of characters we know and love, there’s a lot of depth to each of them, and although we already have a solid knowledge of who Mike and Sully are, we still see a fair amount of development in their characters that helps flesh them out and makes them more well-realized as a whole.

Probably the narrative’s biggest strength is its ability to avoid falling victim to predictable story beats and tired tropes we’ve seen in films and literature time and time again. Yes, there are moments that you’ll see coming, but the film does a brilliant job of also throwing new ideas and twists that manage to keep it interesting and engaging. Add to that some solid pacing and neat commentaries on college life and how we view the university experience as a whole, and the film shows itself as a great addition to the Pixar lineup.

And although it’s branded and presented largely as a kid’s movie, Monsters University still has a great sense of humor and self awareness that allows it to appeal to a wide variety of audiences. So, don’t be ashamed of yourself if you’re sitting in a theater with kids talking loudly and kicking the back of your seat for the entirety of the film.  I sure wasn’t.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also say something about the quality of the film’s animation. Pixar has always been a studio that has managed to create incredibly well-detailed films that both have a unique look all their own and retain a level of quality few studios can match. In Monsters, they simply outdid themselves with an impressive eye for detail in lighting, smooth animation, use of color, and textures that have a visual body and feel to them that really make the monsters seem alive.

Overall, Monsters University wasn’t quite as groundbreaking as Monsters, Inc. But it did take many of the conventions and ideas in the original and utilized them in a great way to give us another look at the world that we have come to know and love. Interesting story, fantastic voice acting, and an impressive visual quality all worked together seamlessly to deliver one of the more charming family films of the year. If you’re a parent, a youngster, or just a die hard Disney fan like myself, Monsters University is definitely a film you won’t want to miss.