Monsters Inc was the first Pixar movie not directed by John Lasseter, and their fourth movie overall. It took a full 10 movies, but they eventually added another movie in the Monsters franchise. Of course since the first movie felt like a complete story, a sequel wasn’t really needed. You could say the same of Toy Story and Finding Nemo, but still. They instead went for a prequel of sorts; the story of how Sully and Mike met in University. There’s a line in the first movie where Mike talks about how Sully’s been jealous of his good looks since “the fourth grade”. You could jokingly say that the entire Monsters University movie is a plot hole, but you could also say that line is just something that Mike would say. In fact that’s the official explanation – that it’s a common expression in the Monsters universe. I’m willing to accept that explanation.
Plans for a second Monsters Inc. movie began as far back as 2005. Around the time, there were a lot of disagreements between Disney and Pixar that I talked more about in my Ratatouille post. Disney planned a sequel to Monsters Inc. through their short-lived studio, Circle 7 Animation. The originally planned sequel was called Monsters Inc. 2: Lost in Scaradise. Mike and Sully would be trapped in the human world after an attempt to give Boo a birthday present, only to find out that she moved. Come to think of it, that sounds like a decent plot. But after Disney got a new CEO and merged with Pixar, all of Circle 7 Animation’s plans were cancelled and all the Pixar sequel rights went back to Pixar.
The new sequel to Monsters Inc. was announced in 2010 and planned for release in November of 2012, but they eventually delayed it to 2013. Directed by Dan Scanion (his directorial debut). It was the first Pixar movie to use global illumination, a new lighting system to completely overhaul the rendering system they used since the first Toy Story. The lights would emit their own lighting, instead of the animators having to add in the light sources and shadows manually.
That process had become increasingly complex as the models and setups became more technologically advanced, and for a movie with hundreds of different monster models, that would become very expensive and time consuming quickly. Not only did the new system speed up the animation process, but it delivered more realism and softer shadows, allowing the animators to focus more on the monsters and complex scenes.
For further research on the movie, the filmmakers visited several colleges, including Harvard, Standford and the University of Alabama. They studied college architecture, student life, Greek organizations and teaching methods. They even spent several weeks at a fraternity house, since the fraternity life is a major part of Monsters University.
Monsters University was a significant financial success, earning $744 million on a $200 million budget, making it the third highest grossing Pixar movie at the time being (since passed by Finding Dory). It rated modestly well with critics, earning a 79% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 6.8/10. The consensus read that Monsters University was a fun and entertaining movie. Some people praised its humour and its message. However the film isn’t without its detractors. Richard Roeper said, “This is a safe, predictable, edge-free, nearly bland effort from a studio that rarely hedges its bets.” The Boston Globe gave the movie 2.5/4, saying “This is not a bad movie, and to small children it will be a very good one, but it’s closer to average than one would wish from the company that gave us Up, Wall-E, The Incredibles and the Toy Story series.” It also became the second Pixar movie to not get any Academy Award nominations.
As for myself, I think this movie’s ok. It doesn’t have as much humour as the first movie, and I didn’t find it as dramatic either. It seems to be basing most of its success on referencing the original with a “how did they get there” type story. However from a visual standpoint, Monsters University is very impressive. It’s also nice that Billy Crystal, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi all reprise their roles from Monsters Inc.
Monsters University is more about Mike than about Sully, reversing the first movie’s character priority. Mike’s life-long dream is to become a scarer. He’s brilliant, he’s very focused and he learns what it takes to be a scarer faster than anyone else in the program. However no matter how hard he tries, he’s just not scary. It takes him almost the entire movie to learn this. He helps a group of other monsters to become scary, whether it be a group of losers from a fraternity house in one of their members’ basements, or Sully, whose family history of scarers has made him arrogant and lazy.
It brings about a harsh lesson that some people will never be able to realize their dreams, a lesson that feels strange coming out of the corporation that usually encourages everyone to follow their dreams. It’s well done though, and I at least compliment Pixar for going there. But as much as I respect this movie for taking a more depressing tone with its lesson, and helping Mike learn his true value and coping with the truth, I can’t bring myself to care all that much.
I don’t like this movie as much as the original. I won’t argue with anyone who feels differently, but still. It’s a college shenanigans movie that’s rated G, which really holds back what they can do with it. The closest thing they get to a real college shenanigans movie is the mature student in the loser fraternity house falling in love with another member’s single mother. It’s amusing, sure, but even a PG would allow them to take some things further. It doesn’t’ help that I’ve never really been a huge fan of the college shenanigans sub-genre in the first place.
Monsters University is an origins story for a movie that doesn’t really need an origins story. By no means is this a bad movie. Monsters University has its loyal fans, and it’ll be good for kids, but I probably won’t feel the need to watch this again any time soon. And I came into this wanting to like Monsters University more, seeing how I really like the original. I would sooner rewatch this over Brave or Cars 2 though – I’ll give it that. At least it’s not Rich People Problems: The Movie, or a jumbled mess of a spy movie starring an annoying idiot.
Anyway, next up is Inside Out, and then it’s nothing but Pixar movies I haven’t seen before. That will start with The Good Dinosaur, and then it’s Finding Dory, Cars 3 and finishing with the very recently released Coco. I’ve heard great things about Finding Dory and Coco, but I’m not yet sure about the other two. Still looking forward to seeing the rest of Pixar’s movie catalogue though.