In 2001, Pixar made and Disney released Monsters, Inc. Directed by Pete Docter and co-directed by David Silverman and Lee Unkrich, it was incredibly fun and inventive idea turned into a great movie. It focused on why there really were monsters in children’s closets, and did so from the monsters’ point of view. It offered up a glimpse of the monster world and how it was just slightly skewed from ours.
Now, in 2013, Pixar/Disney have given us a prequel to Monsters, Inc., Monsters University. Directed by Dan Scanlon, it is a perfectly serviceable movie. It shows us how the heroes of the original, Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) met and became friends. What it isn’t, is remotely as good as that first film.
The new movie, for the most part, takes place in (as the title would suggest), a university, with the two monsters going to college. They both want to become Scarers and help the monster world generate power, and Monsters University is just one of the higher education institutions in the monster world where one can learn the art of scaring.
What Monsters University ends up offering is not the sort of slightly-skewed world that we got in the original film, nor a series a of clever explanations about why things work they way the work. No, what the movie turns out to be, rather than a fresh look at these guys and their world, is a monster version of Revenge of the Nerds, complete with a Greek games competition.
That is absolutely fine, it is a perfectly fun spin on that 1980s classic (in which, it should be noted, John Goodman appeared), it just isn’t the sort of clever tale at which Pixar excels. Instead, it feels like a way to create a franchise and sell merchandise.
I have absolutely nothing against sequels – I think both Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 are superior in nearly every way to the original film. But those both had stories they wanted to tell and it doesn’t feel like there is a story here.
Part of the genius of Monsters Inc. is that by the end of the film Mike and Sully have radically altered the way both the monster world and the human world work, they have changed everything. I have to imagine that there are tons of ways that those changes could be explored in a new film, that there could be an incredible amount of fallout from what they’ve done. I would love to have that story told, the “what happened next” story, but Monsters University shrugs it off completely, opting to return to the status quo, but worse, not having anything new to say about it.
There is certainly no reason for Pixar to avoid doing a college movie, even if it is one that pays homage to other classic college films, but there is also no compelling reason why that story has to exist within the Monsters world. In the end, for me, that is the crux of the matter – if this were a college tale told in a new Pixar universe where they were establishing new rules and a new feel, I think I would have greatly enjoyed it. As it is, existing in the Monsters world, it made me smile and chuckle and wish that they’d done something completely different.
Where the movie is, unquestionably, utterly brilliant is with its visuals. The movie looks completely stupendous. The hair/fur on characters really is incredible, and many of the sets look lifelike. The colors are beautifully saturated and bright, and even in dark scenes nothing is lost. The 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track is equally good, with brilliant surround effects and with an ambiance that changes depending on location. The monster world truly is alive. Pixar may not have told the greatest story here, but they did give it absolutely everything they had in terms of production values.
The home video release is available in multiple flavors, with this particular one containing a Blu-ray, DVD, and digital copy of the movie. There is also a second Blu-ray disc included which houses the majority of the special features. There are deleted scenes, promos, flythroughs of the sets, art galleries, an audio commentary (that would be on the first disc), and looks at just how the various parts of the story came to life. It is a thorough look, but not necessarily always as engrossing as it might be.
I would suggest that your children will, almost certainly love Monsters University and that the adults in the room will marvel at what Pixar can accomplish on a technical level even if they didn’t succeed on a narrative one. Will you be disappointed? Maybe, but only because they have taught us to expect so much more.