One of the biggest criticisms directed at Pixar today is that the studio has become reliant on producing sequels to its films rather than films based on original stories. We live in an era where franchises are highly sought after by major studios because they are more likely to be successful at the box office. Films such as Star Wars Episode VII and Fast & Furious 7 are currently in development and will likely bring in hundreds of millions of dollars. Audiences have a connection with the characters in franchises, hence the larger success rate. Pixar’s argument has been that it is not looking to develop sequels – it is seeking to bring great stories to the screen. Toy Story 2 and 3 were success stories. Monsters University, Pixar’s first prequel which arrives in theaters today, is another great addition to the studio’s catalog. Check out the spoiler-free review after the break!
The film centers around the development of Mike and Sulley’s friendship at Monsters University, a school that Mike has aspired to attend for years. While Monsters, Inc. was the story of the paternal relationship between Sulley and Boo, Monsters University‘s heart is carried squarely by Mike. A character who has faced many challenges throughout life, Mike is determined to demonstrate his strengths to all those who refuse to take him seriously.
The biggest challenge faced by Pixar was that we knew the ending to the film – Mike and Sulley would become great friends employed by the Monsters, Inc. factory. Nonetheless, the film surprises with its unexpected turns. Although we know the ending, the stirring message emanating from the script is difficult to swallow but concurrently heartwarming. The complexity that we have come to expect from Pixar is front and center.
While many Pixar films are known for their brilliant and emotional opening sequences, Monsters University actually takes its time to reach its pinnacle. The first half of the film is heavy on exposition and humor. Once the second half begins, where we see the obstacles that our main characters must overcome, the story moves briskly before arriving at its emotional conclusion.
The new characters that join Mike and Sulley on screen are wonderful. Hundreds of additional characters can be seen throughout the film, and it is a wonder to view the inventive character designs. The school campus is fantastic, instantly reminiscent of college campuses around the country. From the building design to the school culture, Monsters University beautifully captures college life.
Even better than the story are the visuals. The animation emerging from Pixar has never appeared better. It has been almost 12 years since the release of Monsters, Inc., yet the characters of Mike and Sulley look and move just like we remembered. In addition to the animation, other features such as the lighting are stunning, especially during the sequences occurring at night.
The score by Randy Newman is good, but not particularly memorable. The music is appropriately college-themed, with the school theme playing throughout the film score. It is actually the “Roar” dance track by Swedish House Mafia’s Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso that sticks with you, due to its catchy, hypnotic nature. Missing is a track that matches the great jazzy score from the first film’s opening credits.
Monsters University, directed by Dan Scanlon and produced by Kori Rae, is a film that is definitely worthy of the Pixar name. It may not reach the emotional heights of Up or Toy Story 3, but it does not have to. Those are films about letting go, while MU is about acceptance and friendship. This is a college film that resonates, and gives us another chance to have an adventure with Mike and Sulley, hilarious characters that have a strong bond. We may not have specifically asked for a story explaining how these characters met, but now that we have one, I am elated Pixar made it for us. I am a proponent of original stories as much as anybody, but if we have the chance to sometimes revisit characters and can place them in a great story, then I say go for it.
Film Score: 8.5/10