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Film Review: Monsters University

This review contains spoilers for Monsters, Inc.

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I’ve seen Monsters, Inc. exactly once. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite Pixar film — that honor lies with The Incredibles, but, with the exception of what I felt was somewhat overly-action-oriented storytelling in the climax, I did like MI.

Now, twelve years later, I have a six-year-old daughter who’s just the right age to be seeing Monsters University. So I did what any parent who doesn’t want to be trapped in the house on a Friday night and doesn’t want to pay a babysitter should do: take my kid to the movies and end up spending…

…well, actually, probably more money than my babysitter would’ve charged.

Her rates are very reasonable.

Anyway, Monsters University.

Mike Wazowski and James “Sully” Sullivan: the college years.

Monsters University is a prequel to Monsters, Inc.. What you need to know about that film is this: Sully* and Mike are monsters whose job it is to collect fear from human children; that fear is transmuted to energy which is used to power the world in which the monsters live. All monsters look different, and some… well, some just aren’t that scary.

Like Mike — Mike Wazowski — a green, ball-shaped monster with a very silly voice. Mike’s not really scary, and to be fair, he does know it. But he’s still a top employee of Monsters, Inc., and Monsters University shows us how he got there.

All his life, Mike Wazowski has wanted to be a scarer — someone who scares human children, as noted above. On a school visit to Monsters, Inc., he sneaks into a human bedroom and watches a scarer do his thing, and he’s inspired by that to attend Monsters University and become a scarer. Mike is quite the nerd — extremely book-smart and extremely dedicated to his goal — but he’s just not scary-looking. Not like the Dean, a cross between a scorpion and a bat; not like his roommate; not even like Jimmy Sullivan, a huge blue-and-purple creature with one hell of a roar.

But, wouldn’t you know it, this is a Disney-Pixar buddy comedy, and the odd couple of Mike and Sully end up hating each other… until an accident in class gets both of them dismissed from the scaring program. Except there’s one way back in — Mike makes a deal with the Dean that, if his fraternity (think the Tri-Lambs from Revenge of the Nerds) can win the Scare Games, they all get into the program.

Mike has everything stacked against him — his teammates aren’t that scary, he’s not that scary, and everyone else is stronger, faster, or more talented than what he brings to the table. But Mike has drive, and determination, and he’s going to win this thing.

Somehow.

The Oozma Kappas

Monsters University brings Billy Crystal and John Goodman back as Mike and Sully, and they do just as good a job as before. Added to the cast are Nathan Fillion (Dr. Horrible) as Johnny Worthington, the leader of the ROR fraternity; Helen Mirren (2010: The Year We Make Contact) as the Dean; and Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs) as Randy, who you might remember as Randall Boggs from the first film. Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, and Charlie Day comprise Oozma Kappa, Mike’s fraternity, and Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2) plays Mike’s scaring professor. The voice cast is about as good as you’d expect from a Disney-Pixar film, though I don’t know that Fillion was the best choice for Worthington; I felt like someone who sounds a little more like Gaston should’ve come out of that character design.

All around, the film’s animation, design, casting, and direction were quite good. There were plenty of in-jokes, references to the first movie, and little details to see. But where the film fell down, for me, was plot appropriateness. See, this movie really is more intended toward fans of Monsters, Inc. than kids in general — unlike, for example, the Toy Story films, which pretty much stand on their own. The idea of going off to college and going through what college students go through isn’t grokkable to young kids; my daughter knows what school is, but not college, not really. For moviegoers like that, the general humor and bright colors serve a purpose. But for adult moviegoers, this was basically a retread of Revenge of the Nerds: nerdy kid comes to big university to study, is picked on by jocks, joins a group of underachievers, retaliates, and eventually wins the day**.

Stick around until after the credits for a joke involving this guy.

If I had it to do all over again, I probably still would’ve gone to see Monsters University. I did enjoy myself, and I laughed a lot. But I don’t think it was a great Disney-Pixar film, and I don’t think it was the right choice for a sequel story. I recommend seeing this during the day, when you can get a few dollars off admission, and don’t waste your money on 3D — there was nothing I saw in my 2D showing that made me think the 3D would be worth an extra five bucks (or however much it is). Or, y’know, wait for it on DVD.

The movie tells an important story, teaches good lessons about bullying and cheating, and it was nice to learn more about Mike and Sully… but it didn’t cover any new ground. At all. Which is a shame. Better luck next time, Disney-Pixar.

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Note to Parents: This film is rated G. There’s nothing in it that could really be considered objectionable. However, there are a few scary scenes, and the subject matter itself (college) may be ungrokkable to younger children. Of course, you should use your own best judgment when it comes to your kids.

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* I’ve seen it spelled “Sulley” in some reviews and articles, and I refuse to spell it that way. It looks unpleasant to my eyes.

** It’s a Disney-Pixar film that’s rated G. Did you really think the good guys wouldn’t win? Although I will say this — I was not expecting how they pulled it off in the end.

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About the Author

Josh Roseman (not the trombonist; the other one) lives in Georgia. His fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Escape Pod, and the Crossed Genres anthology Fat Girl in a Strange Land. His voice has been heard around the fiction podosphere as well, including here on Escape Pod. Find him online at roseplusman.com, or on Twitter @listener42.

Comments (3)

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  1. Jennifer says:

    I dunno, I think “the good guys win” wasn’t exactly quite how it played out in the end. Without getting into spoiling, this is a rare kids’ story where the main character doesn’t get his goal (and never will, and that’s made clear), and in general the story doesn’t end in the “underdogs win!” trope that we’d expect from such a plot.

    I dunno, I wasn’t sure on a prequel either, but I left the movie feeling a little sad, and having more to think about than I had before. That’s saying something.

    • Bart says:

      Same here with what Jennifer said,the movie ending made me be sad and like bumed for the next hour

      • Illusion-XIII says:

        Did both of you leave before the credits even started? There’s no way for me to explain this without huge spoilage, so:
        *SPOILER ALERT*
        Seriously, don’t look if you haven’t seen the movie, but definitely look if you watched the movie and left thinking that Mike and Sully lost out in the end:

        The main movie ends with Mike and Sully getting expelled from Monsters U. (Did I spoil something? I told you to stop reading! If you haven’t seen this, then Shoo!) The message there is that if you cheat, break the rules, and put lives in jeopardy (by going through that door), there are consequences, and nobody is going to bail you out of those consequences just because you’re the protagonist or because you come from a powerful family (i.e. Sullivan’s famous dad).
        But they decide to get jobs in the Monsters Inc. mailroom, and commit to being the best mailroom employees the company has ever seen. And they succeed, which gets them promoted to another department (this stuff gets flashed in a locker-photo montage as the credits begin), and another department, each time being the best employees and earning greater and greater responsibility, until they end up becoming top Scarers and being famously immortalized on Scare Cards. They become the rock-stars of their world because in the end, they worked hard and made it happen.
        How can that possibly be sad or depressing? The message is that even if you mess up, even if you experience a huge failure, you can pick yourself back up, and through persistence and dedication you can not only succeed, but EXCEED all expectations. They became the best because they earned it, and that’s a totally positive message. I’m sorry that you two missed that. Next time, stick around so you don’t miss stuff.