I really loved Monsters, Inc. It had everything you could ask for from a Pixar film – the animation was great, it had a cracking plot, it was funny and sweet and occasionally made me a bit teary. It was just brilliant, really. I don’t think I could fault it on any level. But this made me a bit anxious when I heard there was going to be a sequel. What if it wasn’t as good? How could it possibly live up to the genius of Monsters, Inc.? I was a bit relieved when I found out it was going to be a prequel because it would have to fit in with the canon of Monsters, Inc. without being too left-field, but it was still a bit of a worry. After watching a trailer I was desperate to see the film though, I was intrigued to see exactly how the friendship of Mike and Sully began but I was still generally concerned.
One of the things I love most about Pixar is the fact that they really let their imaginations run wild, and the Monsters franchise is the perfect vehicle for them to really let loose. Pretty much every kind of monster you could possibly conceive of appears in the films somewhere – scaly monsters, winged monsters, tentacled monsters, spiky monsters, fluffy monsters, fuzzy monsters, monsters with multiple limbs, monsters with not enough limbs, monsters with multiple eyes, monsters that look like familiar creatures, monsters that can fly, monsters that can change colour, monsters that can turn invisible… you name it, they’ll have created it. I love the variety of colours and textures and features, and I just can’t really get my head around how long it must have taken to create and animate so many different sorts of characters. Just simple things like the different ways in which fur and scales move or reflect light or cast shadows would have to be taken into account, and I think the effort that goes into this kind of film must be absolutely staggering and is truly to be applauded. The films are so vibrant, it’s like a bunch of children were let loose in a neon crayola factory and just went nuts. It’s the film equivalent of an E number fuelled packet of blue Smarties, I don’t know how anyone could watch such a bright and visually cheerful film and not find themselves smiling. I especially liked the purple yoga-performing fuzzball that was Art, he was just so fluffy and I wanted to reach through the screen and give him a big squishy cuddle. Remember this scene from Despicable Me, where Agnes sees the fluffy unicorn? That was pretty much my internal reaction every time I saw Art on screen.
In terms of the plot itself, it wasn’t quite up to the standards of Monsters, Inc. but I enjoyed it. I liked the fact that Mike and Sully didn’t get along to begin with, and that actually Sully was a bit of a lazy, arrogant dick. I like that we’re shown how and why Randall develops his vendetta against Sully in Monsters, Inc (even though I don’t think the reason itself, Randall’s humiliation inadvertently caused by Sully years before, was really good enough to have warranted holding a grudge for so long, but then I’ve been known to dislike people purely on the basis that they remind me of someone else I dislike so I’m probably not really in a position to judge). It was nice to see a few other familiar characters dotted about too.
I don’t think Monsters University had the same emotional range as Monsters, Inc. I did find myself laughing out loud on occasion, although possibly not to the same extent as Monsters, Inc., but there were parts that I genuinely found funny – silly little things like the slug monster trying to get to class on time (apparently there was an after credits scene which I missed where he finally arrives, only to discover that the term has ended). Pretty much any scene involving Squishy’s mum brought a smile to my face. I especially liked her sitting cheerfully in her car and listening to her tunes, which turned out to be a rather unexpected blast of heavy metal. I think she was probably one of my favourite characters, and definitely my favourite comic character. Nothing about it really emotionally grabbed me the way Monsters, Inc. did though. Okay, so Sully was an arrogant dick on a laziness fuelled path to self-destruction of his Scarer aims, and Mike had to face up to the fact that he’s nothing special and that no matter how hard he works he will always be an average Scarer at best, and probably less. But nothing really tugged on my heartstrings the way poor Boo’s little face did when she had to say goodbye to ‘Kitty’. I didn’t really feel that invested in the characters or their storylines, whereas I was desperate for Sully not to have to leave Boo behind at that door.
There seemed to be a fair few morals thrown in along the way as well – you have to work together as a team, hard work pays off, you can’t always be good at everything yadda yadda. And yet I think it was the parts of the plot where all the moral lessons were thrown out the window that I enjoyed the most. I quite liked the fact that things didn’t always turn out right. Mike and Sully were kicked off of their course and had to start again from scratch because they took their places for granted and let silly feuds and rivalries distract them from what was important. They even fluffed up their second chance and failed to get back onto the course because they (well, Sully) cheated during the Scare Games, and failed to win the bet fairly. I liked the fact that both Mike and Sully eventually got their places working at Monsters, Inc. not because they did well at university and passed their Scarer’s course, but because they started off at the very bottom rung of the ladder and had to work their way up through the company. Let’s face it, they ballsed up! It was quite refreshing to see a Disney film where things aren’t magically reversed and everyone lives happily ever after once the characters have learned their lesson post balls-up. Mike and Sully learned their lesson, but had to deal with the consequences. It would have taken them years to reach the level of Scarer in the company, whereas if they’d knuckled down from the start and got on with the course they’d have waltzed into the position straight away. Now I know I’m getting a bit carried away here, and I know this is not real life. But I think it’s good for a kids’ film to occasionally say ‘shit happens, that’s life’ rather than everything turning out right and smelling of roses almost immediately. It made a nice change.
I wouldn’t say that Monsters University is on the same level as Monsters, Inc., but then I think part of the joy of Monsters, Inc. was the fact that it was a real unexpected pleasure. We didn’t really know what we were going to get or how it was going to turn out, but it was a real treat and massively successful at that, which rather unfortunately left everyone with very high expectations for the prequel. I think if you view Monsters University as a stand-alone film then you’d be pretty happy with the results. It’s good family fun and I really did enjoy watching it. It just didn’t quite match up to the standards set by Monsters, Inc. though, but then I’d have been absolutely amazed if it had because, let’s face it, the bar is pretty damn high. It’s still definitely worth a watch though. It was funny and sweet and really very cleverly made, and I would also highly recommend the absolutely adorable short of The Blue Umbrella which accompanies the film.