Despite the critical success of Toy Story 3 - Oscar nominated and widely considered the closing chapter of a flawless trilogy - the release of Cars 2 proved that not everything Pixar touched turns to gold. Monsters Inc. was the fourth film in the Pixar canon and was the first film released in the new Millennium, in 2001. Can a series whereby the original is 12 years old continue? Is Monsters University as profound and poetic as Toy Story 3 or is it as hollow and thematically-stunted as Cars 2? Mike and Sully clearly have something to prove...
Clearly, the Monsters of Monsters Inc. are ideal for a series - loveable, colourful (akin to Cars, ripe for toy-manufacturing...) and set within a world that has comedy fed into its foundations as 'scares' are merely the day-to-day job and us humans are oblivious to this alternate world. How frustrating it was to end this set-up in Monsters Inc. as Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) realise that laughter is more powerful than scares - and the fate of Monsters Inc. is changed irreversibly.
But, they connect together well, offering us a story from Mike's perspective primarily. He rallies the troops of the nerdy Oozma Kappa fraternity and completes in the Universities "Scare Games" to prove how scary he truly is...
In a range of quirky and vibrant set-pieces, akin to reality TV shows such as The Voice, Mike, Sully and the Oozma Kappa's prove how scary they are. Running through a gauntlet as pink-spikey things swell up the body-parts they touch, silent-library sneaking and a "scare-off" competition as each team member scares robot-kids add pace and fun 'quests' for our characters to complete. They highlight how versatile the universe of these monsters truly is - and so, when we fall into "reality" in the final act the tone shifts and we realise how dark and scary our world is in comparison.
This really is the films strength as Monsters Inc. hints at the idea that many of things we fear are not scary at all while Monsters University clarifies how the true fear may be the world we live in - as Mike and Sully live within a playful world of fantastical games and comedic creatures. This final act, in terms of pace, seems slower and therefore acts more of an extension to the core narrative - but the shift in tone and connection to reality is worthwhile and offers an interesting theme to sneak through.
Pixar's greatest strength was the morals and sentiments that were embedded in the stories - ideas that appealed to adults moreso than children; Wall-E and social-change; Cars and industrialisation; The Incredibles and diversity. Monsters University has no such sentiment, and it is this that is the films greatest loss.
Orignally written/published on Flickering Myth on June 21st 2013