Everybody has that Pixar film that first made them realise how amazing they were as creators. For me it was Monsters, Inc., a film that I was in love with before it even hit cinema. I had the toys, the book, the game. I had it all before I saw it. It was the only time in my childhood that I got completely carried away with a film. The fact I was 11, and perhaps older than I should have been to get so carried away, is just a testament to how much joy Pixar can fill their audiences with and how much they can make us feel like little kids again. Now, 12 years later, Pixar are taking me back to the characters and world I cherish like no other.
Monsters University is Pixar’s first prequel. Having seen his idol scare a child first-hand, Mike Wazowski wants nothing more to grow up and become an elite scarer. It drives him through his childhood and all the way to college, where he has gotten into the prestigious MU – Monsters University. Only a few days on campus, Mike starts a rivalry with James P. “Sulley” Sullivan, a rivalry which sees the two kicked out of the scaring program. Now the two must drop their hatred for each other and fight for their right to scare.
Good prequels are rare. They are hard to do well because audiences already know how the film ends. The best better explain how or why a certain thing has happened or they go so far back that filmmakers can still surprise. Rise of the Apes is perhaps the best example of a prequel done right. Pixar, as intelligent as they are, have struggled with their first prequel.
Their heart is firmly in the right place, which is the key, but the story of Sulley and Mike has a very definite ending. The dramatic beats are automatically weakened and it is hard not to feel like playing out their rivalry is pointless because we know shortly down the road they are the best of friends. Where Pixar succeed though is by making it as warm, heart-felt and as sweet as humanly possible. They don’t even try to develop villains, cause or create any overwhelming drama. Pixar clearly love these characters as much as we do and they just want to give us 110 minutes of them, doing their cute thing.
College doesn’t naturally lend itself to a breath-taking world, but Pixar have done everything they can to breathe life into it. MU is bursting with vivid colour, each frame is a sensory-overload with there being dozens of visual gags going on in the background of almost every scene. College is huge and that has given the Pixar team a chance to go crazy inventing all kinds of different monsters. It is by no-means their best work visually, however MU is inherently fun, exciting and loaded with detail. It is easy to take for advantage because the beauty isn’t as eye-opening as say WALL-E or Up, but this is still gorgeous work.
Monsters University has an expanded cast compared to the first, in fact it may be Pixar’s best collection of talent yet and thankfully you won’t recognise any of their voices in the actual film. Crystal and Goodman are always soothing and I personally think Sulley and Mike are so loveable because of the energy they breathe into them. New characters are voiced by the likes of Nathan Fillion, Charlie Day, Joel Murray and the amazing Helen Mirren. There are more (Alfred Molina, Audrey Plaza, Sean Hayes etc.), but those 4 were especially impressive and the personality of their characters was really made by their great voice work.
Monsters University won’t work for everybody and especially won’t work for kids. It is a little slow, a little clichéd, a little predicted and lacks the excitement that children expect. This is Pixar-lite, they have crafted a film that purely operates to apease fans of the original and for that reason this works. I found it hard not to get caught up in proceedings, it took me back to 2001 and made me feel like a child again. I laughed a lot. I smiled a lot. I had the most enjoyable cinema experience this year. This gigantic Monsters, Inc. fan was well and truly pleased.