Being a huge Pixar fan, I’ll pretty much go see anything they put on screen. Nevertheless, I had really enjoyed Monsters Inc. so I was excited to see this prequel — Mike and Sulley: the College Years. Now, it’s no stretch to the imagination that there was going to be some element of Revenge of the Nerds and Animal House in this movie, but thankfully there was more to it than just Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan finding friendship among a group of loser-nerds who show the whole school how they can make good. It starts out with Mike vs. Sulley when they form an intense rivalry (Sulley being the slack-off with the good family name — a legacy; and Mike being the A-student with a whole lot to prove) that gets them in the bad books of dean (an elegant-yet-creepy Helen Mirren in the form of a half-dragon, half-centipede creature). Eventually, both their academic fates hinge upon a fraternity competition where they need to lead the coolness-challenged Oozma Kappa team to victory. I’ll bet you can also predict the outcome of that competition (as well as the esteem-boosting bonding that occurs along the way). Regardless of the pieces that aren’t so original, Monsters University still showcases that signature Pixar creativity when it comes to expanding that clever-cute world created for the first movie. The monster world is more than just a series of sight gags and stupid visual puns on real world stuff. The new monsters are also very fun and interesting in a way that shows that Pixar have a really good knack for this kind of off-beat characterization. As far as derivative sequels go, this one still kicks the butt of most animated films out there (sequel or no).
The other O.K. frat brothers are some fun character designs, from a guy with huge long “arms” and tiny “legs”, to a Siamese twin two-headed bickering guy, to a mature-student with suctioned tentacles for arms (and bat wings for a moustache), the characters look great (I especially love the sorority of Stepford girls who turn fanged and vicious — with glowing fire-red eyes — when provoked). Beyond the physical look of the characters, they also have fun personalities, however the focus of the character growth is really on Mike and Sulley. They go from being frenemies to unlikely allies to being true friends and it’s done in a nice, earned, way. Billy Crystal and John Goodman are, of course, back to reprise their roles (It would not have been the same without either of them!) and do a fine job at it.
One of the things that struck me as odd, however, was that Mike seemed a lot smarter in this movie than in Monsters, Inc.. Not only is he a really good student, he also seems to understand all the theory involved in scaring, as well as being a capable leader. He is the one who trains the fraternity and turns them into self-confident winners. It all seems to come down to his physicality (not being scary as a giant eyeball with legs) that limit his potential. It makes for an interesting dichotomy between him and Sulley, but they definitely beefed up that IQ for this movie.
If this had been the only Monsters movie, I’m not sure it would have distinguished itself enough to be a classic, but as a prequel, it’s a really nice companion to Monsters, Inc. and does a good job filling in the backstory that leads to the first movie (including a great montage of polaroids that cover the intervening years of their career — it’s not as moving as the Up montage, but it’s not bad.) (4 out of 5)