Iconic animation studio Pixar offer their first prequel to a previous film (2001’s Monsters Inc.) with Monsters University, a hugely satisfying if somewhat narratively formulaic offering that raises the importance of friendship and being true to yourself.
Set some years before Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), a monster wh0’s essentially an eyeball with arms and legs, and James ‘Sulley’ Sullivan (John Goodman) are employees of Monsters Inc, Monsters University follows them through their rocky beginnings. Whilst now they are best of friends, it wasn’t always this way: Mike was an academically focused individual who put precedence on studying rather than partying, and Sulley breezed through life on the importance of his surname alone – his father was a legendary scarer. On their first meeting, the pair couldn’t stand each other, but a mutual fear of the terrifying University Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) forces them to work together to earn their right to stay in the University.
This isn’t just about how the two became friends though: screenwriters Dan Scanlon and Daniel Gerson have opted for the more difficult approach of explaining how the characters became the monsters that they are today – effectively, they’ve attempted to develop already established personalities. Fortunately, it’s a huge success, and a rewatch of Monsters Inc. is guaranteed to give a new-found respect for Mike and Sulley’s traits. They’ve seamlessly opened up the Universe that these two live in while simultaneously giving an insight into why they do some of the things they do, which is no mean feat, but they pull it off perfectly.
The story isn’t particularly original: two mismatched souls who must overcome their differences to accomplish a shared goal, and discover friendship along the way. The array of new characters distract from this though, with the range of fraternities housing some of the weirdest and most wonderful character designs seen in a number of years. Another level that Monsters University excels at is it’s easily relatable to those who grew up with its predecessor and are now of University attending age: everyone in this age bracket either knows people who act like one of the fraternity members, or can see themselves in one of the characters. Younger audiences may not find as much humour here as Inc. though, due to many of the jokes playing up stereotypes regularly seen on high school grounds and University campuses: the overconfident jocks, the ‘goths’, and so on. It’s not a major issue however, and there’s enough visual gags and action set pieces to keep children entertained, but there’s a feeling that this is a little less universal than its follow up.
It’s an absolute pleasure to see Mike and Sulley back on our screens, but it’s even more impressive to feel like we’re learning more about them even 12 years after we were first introduced. It won’t leave as much of a lasting impression as Monsters Inc., but it will bring smiles to many faces as they leave the cinema: and for that reason alone, Monsters University earns an A for pure family entertainment.