After the disaster that was Cars 2, Pixar released Brave (I’m not covering that in these posts, as I did it a couple of years back when I did a Disney animated feature blog series). It received generally favourable reviews and I think it really helped with animating realistic looking people. Admittedly the king and his vassals and their suns were exaggerated caricatures, but Merida and her mother looked fairly realistic. Even now a lot of people (myself included) think this is a Disney release. It’s total Disney – it features a cartoon princess, magic and all sorts of hijinks, not as many songs as in the standard Disney Princess film, but it does have some and to clinch it all Merida was coronated and is part of the Disney Princess franchise. This is where the lines between the two companies became very blurred.
Anyway that brings me to Monsters University. I do wonder if the Pixar ideas factory was starting to run dry. Brave aside, their last 3 releases had been sequels or in the case of Monsters University a prequel.
The story of the monsters and the scarers had pretty much been neatly wrapped up in Monsters. Inc, so to get a new movie out of it they mined the characters back stories. How did Sulley and Mike team up? Why is Mike so obnoxious?
The second question is answered at the start of the film, when a young Mike goes on a class field trip to Monsters. Inc. He’s small and not particularly scary, so he covers it all up by being loud and rude and pretending that he knows a lot more than he really does.
He does eventually realise his dream and make it to Monsters University where he enrols in the Scaring Program with the aim of become a top Scarer. Sulley’s in the same class, he has a family name and reputation to live up to. This is also where Sulley and Mike met Randall and ultimately why they became rivals in Monsters. Inc.
The plot of the film very quickly becomes a version of the 80’s college classic Revenge of the Nerds with nerdy monsters in place of nerdy humans. Mike and Sulley are kicked out of the Scaring program and their only way back in is to win at the Scaregames, however to even enter the Scaregames they have to be part of a fraternity, so in desperation they join Omega Kappa, the only fraternity that will accept them, it also being full of non scary outcasts.
Predictably they do manage to stay in the competition by the skin of their teeth and utilising some of their nerdy frat brothers individual talents. It all comes down to a final scare from Mike and he aces it, only to find out later that Sulley rigged it for him so that they would win.
This prompts Mike to take dangerous action and nearly results in the destruction of the entire program, if not the university. That also set up a possibly continuity error with Monsters. Inc. Sulley and Mike spent time on the other side of a door and this was never mentioned in the other film, and it would have had to be something that was known about by then. It gets them expelled by the scary Dean Hardscrabble. She is hands down one of the scariest, if not the scariest monster, the franchise has created.
The closing credits sequence see them start in the mailroom of Monsters. Inc and work their way up. There’s also an appearance by the Yeti as their supervisor, which is another possible continuity error.
Even as recently as Toy Story 3 Pixar had been getting better at doing realistic looking people and it hit a high in the camp sequence of Monsters University. Another interesting thing I noticed which I think was intentional is that the colour of Sulley’s fur alters depending on the light.
Weirdly enough, despite its lack of originality I prefer Monsters University to Monsters. Inc (which I personally think is overrated), maybe that’s because I liked Revenge of the Nerds and the many imitators it spawned. I do long for some originality from Pixar, though. Something that has been kind of lacking since Up.
The original cast returned to reprise their roles including cameos by Bob Peterson as Ros and John Ratzenberger as the Yeti. I particularly liked Ratzenberger’s role as the mailroom supervisor. It referenced why he was banished in the first place and also made fun of the role of dedicated mailman Cliff Klaven in Cheers, which was the role most people knew Ratzenberger from before he voiced Hamm in Toy Story.
Someone at Pixar must have been listening to me when I asked if Helen Mirren was considered as the Queen in Cars 2, because she’s cast here as Hardscrabble and her voice is perfect. She just has the right pitch and manner for it.
The other name member was Nathan Fillion as Johnny; the leader of the ROR fraternity and the guys who make the OK’s lives hell. It was an interesting role for Fillion who with the exception of Caleb in the final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, generally played good guys like Johnny in Two Guys, A Girl and a Pizza Place, Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly and author/detective Richard Castle in the popular whodunit series Castle. He channeled his inner nerd hating jock here and did a fine job at it.