Tonight I was treated to a special advance screening of the upcoming Disney/Pixar film Monsters University. We were warned beforehand (via a special message from director Dan Scanlon) that the film is only “99% complete” because the music and sound effects are still being tweaked, but we still got to see the entire film and take in the full story.
My screening pass to Monsters University!
Anyway, onto the review! The bottom line- I think Pixar has a hit on its hands (or claws or tentacles, I’m not really sure). For those of you who were disappointed with Pixar’s last couple of features, Cars 2 and Brave, I think you’ll be satisfied this year.
Monsters University is a prequel to the 2001 hit film Monsters, Inc. If you’re not familiar with the term, a “prequel” is a film that takes place before the events of the film it is based on. This film tells the backstory behind Mike Wazowski, James P. Sullivan, and a couple of other familiar faces in addition to introducing new ones! But if you’ve seen the trailers, you probably already knew that. If not, it’s embedded below for your convenience:
The story initially focuses on Mike’s perspective and his dream of becoming a scarer at Monsters, Inc. It progresses to where he is in college, about to start his freshman year at Monsters University. This part of the film is a lot of fun. For myself (as well as for the rest of the audience- it was all college students!), it brought back memories of my freshman year and the start of the typical “college experience”. There are a lot of gags and sights to be seen that you may be able to relate to! From the campus tour guides to the dorms to the dining halls to the clubs and organizations, there are plenty of things to see that will remind you of your first day on campus.
So Mike goes through freshman orientation and meets his roommate (who may or may not surprise you), and they start attending classes. The progression is shown between Mike’s first semester compared to Sulley’s. It’s not all about classes though. They get involved with Greek life, and that’s when the plot starts getting interesting. As you’ve probably seen in the trailers, Mike and Sulley weren’t always friends- in fact, they were rivals! But I’ll stop here, because I don’t want to give anything away. I’ll just say that there’s a twist (or two)…
Back to the point of this post, which is to actually review the film. First, I’d like to start off by saying that this film has an important ingredient that I feel Pixar’s last couple of attempts have lacked- charm. While I enjoyed Cars 2 and Brave for what they were, I think both of those films lacked the ability to really form a connection between the characters and the audience, and the emotions they were trying to convey with those films felt a bit forced. Of course, Monsters University (I’ll refer to the film at M.U. from this point on to save some typing!) has the advantage of having some already well-known and beloved characters in the film, which helps add to the charm. But the plot itself is something that I think is a bit more relatable than the last couple of Pixar films. In some ways I would compare it to Toy Story 3 in that it’s a story about making a transition from one major life event to another, but this may be obvious from the title alone. The story and the humor really drives this film and helps deliver the above-excellent standards that we typically expect from Pixar.
Another advantage that this film has is that, like Toy Story 3, it perfectly hits its target audience, which is in large part people in my age range. When Monsters, Inc. was released in 2001, I was 10 years old, and I’m sure a lot of my readers were roughly the same age since most of my followers here are, like myself, current college students. The fact that they are still aiming for family audiences with young children without forgetting those of us who have followed them since we first saw Toy Story says a lot to me about how much they care about their fans. What I love about Pixar is their ability to tell a story that can entertain everyone, no matter their ages. It’s said that you’re never too old for a Disney film, and this one is no exception!
The team that worked on M.U. really did a good job of putting a real-world type of story (starting college) into the fantasy world of Monstropolis. The clever sight gags such as the “monster” style architecture of the buildings and the way the monsters behave mimic the original Monsters, Inc. without overdoing it and yet create a new and unique film. There are quite a few scenes that “mirror” the original film as an homage, and quite a few cameo appearances by some of your favorite monsters! You may also notice a bit of foreshadowing that hints at the events in Monsters, Inc., including how or why certain monsters took specific actions in the original. As you may know, Pixar has certain references that are included in nearly all of their films. I won’t tell you when/where they are placed, but you will see A113 and the Luxo ball in this film! The voice actor who has voiced characters in every single Pixar film to date reprises his Monsters, Inc. character. I personally didn’t see the Pizza Planet truck, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t in there. Besides, what’s a college campus without pizza?!?! I probably just missed it.
The only negative I see in this film is that despite its excellence, I’m not sure if it will ultimately match up to the film its based on, and comparisons between the two will be inevitable by the general public once it opens. It’s rare for any secondary film to actually be considered better than the original anyway, and so that may be its major flaw. Obviously only time will tell. But I do think it will eventually be considered a classic in itself due to its well-written script and execution, regardless of whether people end up liking it as much as Monsters, Inc. or not. On a sidenote, unfortunately we were not shown the new Pixar short before the screening tonight (titled The Blue Umbrella), which could be seen as a negative, but it doesn’t affect my opinion of M.U. whatsoever since it’s unrelated. I’ll just have to go back to the theaters this summer to catch it!
Monsters, Inc. poster (Copyright Disney/Pixar)
In summary, I would recommend this film to anyone, but especially to any past, present, or future college students! The film has a bit of a surprise ending, but it’s still satisfying and it completely works in both ending M.U. and setting up the beginning to Monsters, Inc. Even if you didn’t go to college or if you’re still a few years away from attending, there’s something in this film for everybody! At the end of the film, EVERYONE in the audience was applauding. I personally can’t wait to see this film again when it officially opens in theaters, and you should make it a must-see on your summer movie list as well! Stalk, don’t run.