Monsters University (2013)

Come on. People are still worried about Pixar after watching Monsters University?


The Unique Premise
I typically omit this section for sequels/prequels, since the premise usually remains the same, but Monsters University actually has almost nothing to do with the corporate conspiracy of Monsters, Inc. I mean, sure, the monsters come to Monsters University to eventually work for Monsters, Inc., but the predominate body of power now resides wherever Dean Hardscrabble decides to fly, instead of the omnipresence of Monsters, Inc. And barring the ending, the only children that appear are lifeless manikins. Monsters University is less about the human relationship between monsters and more about the relationship of monsters altogether.

I also feel the need to debunk detractors who claim Monsters University is a blatant copy of Revenge of the Nerds (among other college movies). I’ve even heard some unfair comparisons made to The Internship. I think people forget that those movies end happy. The nerds convinces everyone to join them instead of Alpha Beta. The underdog interns win the Google competition. Mike and Sully are… expelled from college. Sully cheats his way through the final round of the scare games. Mike never becomes a scarer. Ever.


Now, I’m not saying I like Monsters University because it is different from those movies. I like Monsters University because it is special.

The Adventure
Much like how Toy Story 2 shifted the focus from Buzz to Woody, Monsters University shifts the focus from Sully to Mike. And once again, it works. We get a glimpse of Mike’s almost tragic child-life, as he is constantly ignored by his peers. Everything changes after Mike is handed a scarer’s MU cap on a Monsters, Inc. field trip. He now knows how to be a somebody. He wants to be a scarer.


Being only one year removed from freshmen status when I first watched Monsters University in theaters, I had a lot of fun reminiscing freshmen orientation as depicted in Monsters University. Comedy is usually not what I most remember from Pixar films, but Monsters University is genuinely funny with its accurate but cleaned version of college life. I remember thinking to myself: Oh, me and my roommate are going to be best friends forever. I recall having a mental check-list, along the lines of: Audition for an a cappella group, join a pre-med society, and get straight A’s (only two of these things came true). Monsters University also has more fun than its predecessor playing with all of its different monsters, like having a snail monster inch its way to class (and receiving a post-credit scene). Perhaps people don’t share my sense of humor, but I think Monsters University is one of Pixar’s funniest, right up there with Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3.

The Climax
I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical of Monsters University once we were introduced to the monsters of Oozma Kappa. I mean, did anybody think they were that funny or charismatic? I don’t know. I was a bit disappointed by the side-characters of Monsters University.


And by the time the scare games commenced, I was beginning to think this was going to be Pixar’s second-in-a-row, run-of-the-mill animated outing, and that perhaps Pixar had really lost their touch since Cars 2. Don’t get me wrong, the games are enjoyable, but it failed to form any resemblance of a solid story. After Mike won it all for his team in the finals, I sat in disbelief. Is Pixar really going to settle for this cliched ending? That if you work as hard as you can, anything can come true?


Of course not. It’s Pixar.

The Pixar Moment
Sully, even after doing the right thing and admitting he rigged Mike’s manikin to Dean Hardscrabble, faces the consequences of his actions and is expelled from Monsters University. Mike receives the same punishment after going into the real world–our world–to prove he is indeed scary. The thing is, he isn’t scary. He will never be scary. No matter how hard he works, no matter how hard he tries, no matter how badly he wants it, Mike Wazowski will never be a scarer for Monsters, Inc. Ever.

"I act scary, Mike. But most of the time, I'm terrified."
“I act scary, Mike. But most of the time, I’m terrified.”

The thing I love about Monsters University as a prequel, although mostly uncomplicated for the entire duration of the scare games, is the message is more profound when viewing Monsters University alongside the crystal ball that is Monsters, Inc. We know Mike eventually becomes a Monsters, Inc. comedian. And Sully becomes the chairman. By many standards, Mike became a somebody. He was indeed special, just special in ways that were hidden to him at the time.


Just because your dreams burn up in flames does not make you failure. It’s not because you aren’t good enough. It’s because it isn’t right for you. There have been children’s films that have tried to invalidate the Disney motto of chasing your dreams till Earth’s end, but none does it better than Monsters University. Monsters University proposes to children that perhaps your dreams will only come true when you stay true to yourself. When you find what makes you special. Not Einstein. Not Picasso. But you.

I’m not going to be the first or last person to say this, but for all I’ve written, Monsters University does indeed fall short of WALL-E, Up, Finding Nemo, the entire Toy Story trilogy, etc. It just spends too much time making jokes, developing uninteresting side-characters, and lollygagging around with the scare games to continually progress its themes and story to the fullest. But why does every Pixar film have to be a near cinematic masterpiece? What’s wrong with Pixar making a film that is more about the fun and less about the storytelling?


I think it’s time we stop measuring every Pixar movie to the Pixar meter stick and start finding out what makes each of their movies special. It’s time we stop saying Monsters University is an unworthy Pixar title and time we start saying Monsters University is an exceedingly entertaining, and even occasionally deep, movie.

Final Grade: B (85%)–Exceedingly entertaining, and even occasionally deep.


6 Replies to “Monsters University (2013)”

  1. Great review. Here’s the thing with me and Pixar — although I admit their movies are some of the best animation has to offer, they often fail to strike a cord with me. It’s not that I dislike them. They’re just not the sort of movies I can’t stop thinking about after watching, the kind I remember years after.

    I’ve heard it said Pixar stands out because they movies have a lot of “substance”. I can see how that’s the case, but in my opinion they lack something else that is hard for me to pinpoint. I feel inclined to call it “spirit”, but that may be unfair. I think that though this particular movie is fun to watch, it stands out particularly in how it lacks this vaguely defined quality.

    It may be that, quite simply, it’s too mundane.

    1. Hi Henry! Thanks for commenting.

      I’m not quite sure how Pixar could be lacking “something” and still be producing some of animation’s best films. Is there another animation studio, or even animated movie, that has this something you refer to? Or is it something animation is missing all together?

      To me, Monsters University felt a bit more robotic than the other Pixar films. So maybe it could be lacking the quality of spontaneity? Lacking this quality could surely result in a film feeling mundane.

      1. Spontaneity may be part of it. But I think it relates to something I have seen you point out in previous reviews. For example, in the review for A Bug’s Life you commented that the characters being ants was for the most part irrelevant to the story. I haven’t watched Monsters University in a while, but I would say the same applies here. The protagonists being monsters seems to have little bearing on the story. It’s just a story about a guy’s time in college, and it appears more inclined to draw humor from making monsters act like humans than the surrealism the original had.

        About this mythical “something”, I would say Disney has it. I can actually tell a Pixar movie from a Disney movie without having to check anything. But I need to insist this isn’t a matter of quality — it is a much more subjective preference regarding style.

      2. Yes. I get annoyed when people can’t seem to tell the difference between Pixar and Disney. Completely different storytelling styles!

        A lot of critics use the word “magic” when describing Pixar films, but I like to reserve that word for Disney’s. I find Disney cares more about the atmosphere/legacy of their films, whereas Pixar cares more about the story/creativity. I mean, almost every Pixar film seems to be pushing the envelope on what a children’s film can be in all the right ways. I find Disney to be a bit more predictable, although able to provide a fresh spin on their formula most of the time. I like both studios a lot. I guess it comes down to preference of style, as you said.

  2. I remember watching it in theaters and calling it one of the best Pixar movies I’ve seen recently. To this day I recall it as me being a bit overboard. Though I still enjoy the film, I do see it’s flaws, many of which were mentioned in your review.

    Loved reading this one, by the way. It was a real treat!

    1. It’s funny how much higher my initial score for a movie is before I have some time to think about it more and write about it, so I totally understand the whole going overboard thing. Glad you liked the review! Unfortunately, my Pixar conclusion piece will be the last of my Pixar project. I hope you like superhero movies!

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