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Monsters Inc. was one of my favourite films growing up. A great buddy comedy with the addition of an adorable toddler that just happens to revolve around monsters, it won many of our hearts. Rather than create a straight up sequel, Disney Pixar decided to go down the prequel route, exploring how Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) met in college. While I usually dislike prequels, I feel this was a smart move and prevents the film from becoming a retread of the original.
The duo have such a strong friendship in Monsters Inc. that it is interesting to see them beginning as rivals, vying for the top spot in class. An incident involving them both results in them being kicked out of the scaring course. They’re forced to work together as part of the lamest fraternity, Oozma Kappa, to win the Scare Games and rejoin the scaring program as part of a wager with the villainous dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren). The group slowly become like family and learn to work effectively as a team in the process.
Despite centring on the relationship of Mike and Sully for the most part, this is totally Mike’s film, stealing the show right from the start. It is truly an exploration of his place in the world, as he takes on a career in scaring that fans will know is doomed to fail. The film asks the question “if a monster isn’t scary, what are they?”, and no matter how hard Mike studies he seems incapable of terrifying even the smallest of children. This is contrasted with the other members of Oozma Kappa, who don’t appear outwardly scary yet have innate talents or skills that make them effective monsters. Then of course there’s Sully, who looks downright terrifying but is physically incapable of studying. Together with Mike’s knowledge however, together they make a great scaring team.
The rest of the Oozma’s are equally sweet and funny. How disastrous they are in the Scare Game’s events provides much of the film’s humour. The dean makes quite an effective villain, looking terrifying and having a cruel malice in the treatment of her students. The other villains come in the form of their rivals in the games, the other fraternities and sororities on campus. These each basically have one defining attribute, such as the evil cheerleaders or the dumb jocks, and it’s quite obvious that Oozma Kappa as the underdogs will at least reach the finals of the games. Pixar are clever enough to recognise that people will expect the outcome and throw a few surprises into the plot that keep the audience interested.
Pixar’s animation seems to improve with every film and Monsters University is no different. The environments look incredible and the monster designs are unique and well crafted, the cheerleaders being a prime example as they morph from beautiful monsters to demonic creatures. Comparing Sully’s fur to the original is a great marker point, as it now looks even more textured and lifelike. Dan Scanlon makes his Pixar directional debut with this film, yet directs with true skill to rival even the Pixar masters.
Comparisons to the original are inevitable and I feel that Monsters University isn’t quite as funny. While the jokes consistently land, it lacks any real laugh out loud moments. The absence of Boo also lowers the cuteness factor, though it still has moments of sweetness such as the scene of young Mike in the opening. The film is mostly able to stand on its own however, though it does have some great call backs to the original, such as the budding rivalry between the duo and Randall which is contrasted powerfully against the film’s budding friendship.
Another great Pixar film that proves they can’t even make a bad prequel, though let’s just erase the Cars films from our memory for now.