There are extraordinarily high expectations placed on Monsters University. As a prequel to one of the best films that has come out of Pixar Animation Studios, Monsters, Inc., the result was always going to be compared to the first film.
The film doesn’t match up, but it likely wasn’t going to anyway. For the most part, it tells its own story. It attempts to distance itself from the 2001 film despite having some of the same characters — the same two protagonists, Mike and Sully (Billy Crystal and John Goodman respectively) — and only becomes a prequel and sets up Monsters, Inc. at the very end. It’s just too bad that the story isn’t original in the slightest and really isn’t worth exploring.
In a prologue, we learn that Mike Wazowski always wanted to be a “Scarer.” Fast forward years later and he’s attending Monsters University. He doesn’t know Sully at this point, so part of the film details how they went from being strangers to becoming best of friends. In order to both graduate, they’re going to have to compete in the “Scare Games,” a series of competitions involving different fraternities. The winning team is deemed the scariest at the school. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same basic story that The Internship used a couple of weeks ago: a couple of guys team up with a group of misfits in an attempt to win a competition to secure their dream jobs.
These competitions do allow for flashy and entertaining action scenes. They’re not interesting or inventive, but they’ll satisfy anyone hoping to see mindless action. The problem is that Monsters University isn’t anything special, especially in comparison to both its predecessor and the short film that plays before it, The Blue Umbrella. If there’s any reason to see Monsters University in the cinema, it’s because of this short film that precedes it. The Blue Umbrella is one of the most beautiful things to see all year and contains some of the best animation out there. Based solely on the five minutes it’s on screen, we could see photo-realistic animation in the very near future. There are times when it’s hard to tell whether what’s been shown is live-action or CGI.
Monsters University is still a charming, funny and relatively exciting film. But in comparison to the top tier Pixar films, including the film for which it is a prequel it is disappointing. Its plot isn’t unique, the action isn’t inventive and while the characters are the same — it’s fun to see some of the cameos and inside jokes that are scattered throughout — the whole experience is almost instantly forgettable. It will entertain the children who watch it and any adults who can turn their brain off for 90 minutes, but those looking for anything more will want to watch something else — unless the five-minute short film that plays before it sounds like it’s worth the ticket price. It just might be.