MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (2013) – Film Review

I almost gagged while watching Monsters University—not from laughing, but from horror. While finishing my sour Skittles, I inadvertently poured the powder at the bottom of the bag into my mouth. It briefly made me feel like life wasn’t worth living.

The movie watching experience was much better. On the one hand, it’s hard to compare the Monsters movies. They are related in that they exist in the same universe and revolve around the same characters. They are also unrelated in that they tell two dramatically different stories. Is one better than the other? I am tempted to say yes. But we’ll get to that a little later.

Plenty of people have bemoaned Pixar’s decline from greatness—something that has been a concern for me as well. Cars 2 and Brave have given us reason to fear. Additionally, the current emphasis on sequels is worrisome—a potential sign that the studio is drifting away from the originality that brought us the likes of Wall-E and Up. In my opinion, though, this particular entry is a return to the Pixar standard we’ve come to expect.

CONTENT (C): 10 out of 10
It’s nice to see such a high caliber effort with such a tame MPAA rating. There is an unfortunate stigma that accompanies most G-rated fare, as if a movie with such a label is too tame to incorporate anything truly interesting. Monsters University defies that stigma.

Time and time again, Pixar films have demonstrated that clean humor can be absolutely hilarious. Monsters U is no exception. With a college campus setting, the filmmakers had ample opportunity to delve into bawdy or bathroom humor, but they continually take the high road. There are no cheap jokes designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. This film is solid proof that smart, entertaining, and funny movies don’t need raunchy material in order to tell an engaging story.

Potentially objectionable content in this film is practically nonexistent. The worst is probably when a group of college students break through a fence and trespass on private property, with no apparent repercussions. Overall, though, pivotal character arcs involve remorse and repentance over illegal behavior.

In stark contrast to the overused and generic “be yourself” messages littering children’s films, Monsters U promotes a more substantial—and more heartwarmingly effective—lesson. The American ideal of reaching for the stars and achieving everything you want doesn’t always happen. It is acceptable and helpful to acknowledge that truth. The path of hard work, dedication, and perseverance is fulfilling in its own right, and sometimes it opens doors that might have otherwise remained shut.

ARTISTRY (A): 10 out of 10
This movie might not be as prone to inspire incessant laughter or lumps in the throat as Monsters Inc., but the plot is both stronger and far less predictable. It fits perfectly well in the monster world already established, but the focus is on new and fresh material. Mike and Sully are still Mike and Sully—albeit younger and less mature, giving them room for character growth that beautifully illustrates the film’s message.

As with any Pixar effort, the animation in this movie is beautiful, though this is much more than mere eye candy. The writing is delightfully creative and the vocal performances are top notch. I was never a huge fan of Randy Newman’s score for the first film, but his involvement here provides a subtle connection between both Monsters movies.

PREFERENCE (P): 10 out of 10
Sequels (and prequels) rarely live up to the quality of the original, and fewer still surpass that quality. While I’ll admit to being a huge fan of Monsters Inc.—arguably Pixar’s funniest movie to date—I am tempted to say that, like Toy Story 2, Monsters U is a stronger story than the original.

As I mentioned earlier, it may not tickle the funny bone or pluck the heartstrings as powerfully as the first movie. Even so, the less predictable plot and a message organic to the story combine to produce a superior motion picture. Still, this prequel doesn’t ruin or detract from the original. If anything, it ads to the pleasure provided by the first.

During the wonderful prologue/setup to Monsters University, I had a huge smile on my face. I can’t remember the last time that has happened to me. As the film progressed, my enjoyment only grew. Near the end of the movie, I was almost giggling like a schoolgirl at a Taylor Swift concert. The filmmakers won me over with a rich tapestry of endearing characters, exciting plot twists, innocent humor, and a nostalgic return to the world of Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan.

CAP score: 100%

Two additional points of interest. First, you may want to stick around for the end credits. The short scene afterward isn’t amazing, but it’s worth checking out.

Second, the animated short film that precedes Monsters University is further proof that Pixar hasn’t lost its creative edge just yet. Utilizing advanced technology that enhances photo-realistic computer animation, The Blue Umbrella tells a simple and unusual love story. The humor typical to these types of efforts is absent, replaced by an emphasis on eye candy. While not as entertaining as previous Pixar shorts, it is far from soulless. Pixar continues to push the creative envelope with its short films, and this entry is no exception.