Let’s gets this out of the way right off the bat. Is Monsters University and good as Monsters Inc? No, but that’s kinda like asking “Is Miguel Cabrera as great as Babe Ruth?” One is incredible, and one is amongst the greatest of all time. With that out of the way, Monsters University is a great film, one that really reveals more of itself with subsequent viewings. Thankfully now that it’s out for home release, one can watch till your eyeballs want to fall out. And given the amount of detail stuffed into Monsters University, you just might want to.
If Monsters Inc can be classified as Sully’s story, Monsters University is most definitely Mike Wazowski’s story. The very first things we see is very young Mike on an elementary school trip to Monsters Inc. and how he gets the itch to want to be a scarer. We also see just how much of an outcast he is since, quite frankly, he’s just not that scary. But he’ll be damned if he doesn’t work harder than any other monster out there to be the best, preferably at Monsters University, the Harvard of monstering. This brings us to the meat of the story, Mike and Sully’s relationship. It’s not a good one at first. James P. “Sully” Sullivan is kind of a jerk. Basically gliding by on his innate scariness of being 9 feet tall with big fangs and a bigger roar. Mike is, in his own way, kind of a jerk to, and all of the jerkiness aided and abetted by the campus fraternity society lead by uber-jerk Johnny J. Worthington III.
Through a slightly convoluted series of events involving the school’s rather stern Dean, Abigail Hardscrabble, Mike and Sully find themselves very much on the outside of where they want to be, the Scare School and Roar Omega Roar fraternity, stuck in the school of scare equipment design and the Oozma Kappa fraternity as the Scare Games descend upon them with a tantalizing opportunity. If their fraternity team can win the games, Mike and Sully get back into Scare School. If they lose the games, they’re out of Monsters University completely. Oh, and Mike’s first roomie just happens to be one Randall Boggs, pre-cackling-evildoer phase.
While we all basically know how this will end, with Mike and Sully becoming friends and working for Monsters Inc, the path leading to that outcome is definitely not what one would have expected. It seems like it for a while, but there’s a crucial turning point that elevated the film from merely “good” to the realm of truly great. Personally I found the plot device of a scare tournament to be a bit trite, but Pixar manages to pull the whole thing off with panache. Most important, Mike isn’t some saint with all of the answers. He’s just as big of a jerk as Sully for a long time. A jerk in a different way, and usually well meaning, but a jerk none the less. It elevates Mike from being just another cardboard cutout “hero” into a more fully rounded, and obviously quite round, character. I’m a little less enamored with the Roar Omega Roar angle of the evil fraternity. That just seems a bit lazy to me.
What certainly isn’t lazy is the amount of work Pixar poured into bringing Monsters University to life. This is by far the richest film Pixar has ever done from a visual standpoint. The sheer variety of monsters alone (over 250 different types by Pixar’s own count) is stunning. It’s not a matter of one monster has hair and everyone else is a hairless block. There’s hundreds of hairy monsters to be seen everywhere, amongst the many, many other varieties. Add in all of the “monstering” touches to all of the buildings and everything else and it’s a stunningly cohesive world. There isn’t a single off note to be found. The performances from the cast are all note perfect, too. The three characters from the first film that come back are all spot on, and the expanded cast, especially Helen Mirren as Dean Hardscrabble, are exceptional as well.
Also exceptional is the extras package put together for this release. I will note that I got the 2D version, not the 3D version, so I have no idea how the film would look that way. I can say that this version includes a full length commentary with the director and several of the production staff that goes really deep into the film’s production. There is also a series of vignettes on a 2nd disc that comprise a full length documentary of the film’s production if you string them all together. For whatever reason there’s no “play all” option for that though, and the menu isn’t as well laid out as it could have been. Minor point, I know, but given how great the rest of the package is, it sticks out. Also, there are some hidden extras, so don’t be afraid to play around with your remote a bit.
If you’re a fan of Monsters Inc, Pixar, animation or just plain great films in general, I shouldn’t have to tell you to go out and get this, but seriously, just get it. Consider it required viewing as homework.