Twelve years later, our favorite monsters are back.
Initially I had some concerns about this film. Pixar’s track record for sequels was inconsistent at best. The Toy Story sequels were both fabulous, but Cars 2 was mind-numbingly average. In what direction would Monsters University fall, especially given the high expectations set by the first film?
The answer is resoundingly positive. Let’s see why.
There are three major pitfalls of most sequels:
- The Plotless Wonder: Heavy reliance on the established characters from the original movie, and essentially no effort put into the plot. Think Grown Ups 2 (I’m 90% sure Adam Sandler invited everyone over just to hang out and someone accidentally filmed it, edited it, and released it into theatres.)
- The Scotty Special: Non-stop fast-paced action sequences and/or convoluted plot which serves to cover up mediocre characters from the original film. Think Transformers 2. They are giving it all she’s got, captain, and it just doesn’t work.
- Combined Type: Ridiculously convoluted and nonsensical plotlines which undermine a terrific character from the original film. Think Quantum of Solace, The Wolverine, or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. These are the worst, most disappointment sequels. You leave these movies thinking, “What a waste of time, and what a waste of a great character!”
Cars 2 is a victim of the second type. The sad truth about Cars is that the characters simply aren’t as interesting or compelling as most of the other leading characters from Pixar films. The concern about Monsters University was the third type – would Pixar be able to utilize the great characters created in Monsters Inc without losing their uniqueness in a jumble of forced conflict?
Simply put, Pixar nailed it. The monster world is just as detailed and hilarious as before. Mike and Sully are brought to life in a whole new perspective as we learn how they became the best friends we saw and loved in Monsters, Inc. There is a terrific balance of humor and seriousness. Pixar is not afraid to ask hard questions – is innate talent more valuable than hard work? What happens when we fail? How far should you go to pursue your dreams? Is it ever okay to give up? While the film doesn’t answer all these questions with finality, it does lead the audience to ponder these things. Sneaky. Pixar isn’t just emotionally manipulative, they are also forcing us to be introspective.
There is a whole new crew of a hilarious monsters in Oozma Kappa. Don, the kind-hearted nontraditional student, curses in phrases like “son of a mustache!” and romances the mother of his fraternity brother “We’re brothers who share the same mother slash wife!… Oh, that’s worse.” Squishy’s mom has hysterical timing for her laundry schedule and epic taste in music “I’ll just be here listening to my tunes!” There are a few subtle Animal House references, and some keen insight into the college student mind, “You just took on an angry 50 foot librarian and you’re afraid of a little party?” There are also some beautiful little throwbacks to the original movie, from Mike Wazowski’s student ID to the innocuous reason for Randall’s sinister leering.
Bottom Line: If you’ve got great characters, celebrate them. Don’t hide them in a jumble of fight scenes, car chases, and unnecessary missions. Take a lesson from Monsters University and the Toy Story series– in the name of good cinema, take your time. It’s worth it, and your audience will thank you.