At the time of its release, Monsters University was probably not the movie fans wanted to see from Pixar. After all, it could have been correctly argued that a company that had once been known for completely original concepts had been little bit too focused on sequels, with three of its last four movies falling on that category and with the future holding even more of those, including the seemingly unnecessary Toy Story 4.
However, it cannot be denied that Monsters University was a movie Pixar needed to do. Not because 2001’s Monsters Inc. desperately claimed for an opening chapter, but because following the predictable disaster of Cars 2 and the missed opportunity that was Brave – a movie that perfectly translated to the screen the awful turmoils of its production – Pixar had to find a relatively safe place to land on after their fall from grace.
As it turns out, with Monsters University the studio was successfully able to avert any major damages that could have been caused by the drop, delivering a solid flick after a terrible effort and a subpar one. The movie shows the company was apparently ready to take the necessary steps to climb back to the leading position within the animation industry; a throne that now safely sits within the possession of the Walt Disney Animation Studios following a mesmerizing string of releases that started back in 2008 with Bolt.
Monsters University is a movie with very punctual dashes of the unexpected, something that Pixar has always thrived on. Although, in a sense, the movie follows a progression that is a tradition for blockbuster movies, it offers a few twists and turns along the way to keep viewers on their toes.
Contrary to what their very strong relationship on Monsters Inc. seemed to indicate, Mike and Sully did not get along as soon as they stepped onto the titular university’s campus. In fact, during the movie’s first part there is a considerable amount of time spent portraying their conflicting personalities and painting them both as antagonists to one another. Mike is a hard-working student who finds ways to excel even without a lot of natural talent, while Sully is portrayed as being comfortable with coasting on his family name and clear, but unexplored, potential, employing all his energy on achieving popularity and partying.
Prequels are destined to be inferior to the original material. After all, they are built as introductions to a much bigger and important event; in addition, a big part of the effort is consumed in the attempt to tie all the storyline knots in order to solidify the connection between both pieces. As a consequence, Monsters University is definitely not as good as its source, but it humbly and smartly accepts its role as a supporting movie by making its sequel a better and even more believable movie, and adding even more colors to the impressive monster universe.
The biggest benefit Monsters University extracts from its position as an introductory piece is that it understands it holds no major responsibilities. Nobody expects it to be one of the finest works of the Pixar canon, and therefore it makes no effort to create a massive overarching epic. Whatever struggles and dangers the writers could have created would have their effect vastly diminished, because – in a way – the audience knows the whole ordeal has a nice ending; what truly matters here – as it is the case with any other movie – is the journey, not the destination, and Monsters University makes the best of it.
The college campus is a very light-hearted environment, and the Pixar crew takes advantage of it to make fun or create monstrous satires of staples of the life in a university: the fraternities, the parties, the segregation of students into groups of similar interest and behavior, the threatening teacher, the boring tutors, the adventures that border on outlaw, the expectations, the disappointments and the competition. It is a lighthearted package of satire covered with the charm of the monsters and backed up by the embryonic phase of the relationship between Mike, Sully, and Randall.
For kids, the hilarity of it all comes from seeing Mike and Sully on their younger days; for adults, there is the added delight of recognizing a lot of what they went through on a nicely written animated feature. In the end of it all, the loose and careless environment of a university ends up being the perfect setting for a movie that, while being very important to the company’s rehabilitation, does not have much weight on its back given its prequel status.
In spite of a few slip-ups here and there, such as the ridiculously abrupt way through which Randall goes from being a huge geek and – as a consequence – a natural partner to Mike, to being warmly accepted by the school’s most arrogant and popular fraternity, Monsters University glues together and gives further explanation to all major points of Monsters Inc. To top it all off, it delivers what Pixar has been owing its fans for far too long: a great movie that is solid all the way through.