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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Monsters University review: back of the class

Monsters University yellow light

Monsters, Inc. was in no way calling for a sequel, and here it is.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): not the biggest fan of the first film

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Have you ever wondered how best monster buds Sully (the voice of John Goodman: The Hangover Part III) — he’s the big turquoise furry one — and Mike (the voice of Billy Crystal: Parental Guidance) — he’s the giant chartreuse eyeball one — met? You haven’t? Great: Monsters University will regale you with the tale of how they were roomies at Monsters University, which is just like a human university, complete with jocks and nerds and cool kids and parties and fraternities and an intimidating dean and football and everything. MU the movie is also just like all the other movies about human institutions of higher education you’ve ever seen, too — you will be unsurprised, for instance, to discover that though scare-jock Sully and nerd-boy Mike initially hate each other, they will overcome their natural suspicions and learn how to work together to kick some monster butt in the annual Scare Games. Go team! (You will also be unsurprised to learn that every single character of any significance here is male, because even in movies in which the protagonists are creatures of inhuman blobbiness, it is vitally important to keep girl cooties to a minimum. And no, casting the voice of Helen Mirren [Arthur] as the intimidating dean does not make up for that.) Monsters, Inc. was in no way calling for a sequel, and here it is. The complete lack of suspense about absolutely anything here is more likely a bonus for the very small children for whom this will serve as a big fluffy virtual stuffed animal and electronic babysitter (once it comes to DVD), and the length — nearly two hours when a short would have suited the thin material better — simply means a longer interval before Mom or Dad has to hit Play again.

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Monsters University (2013)
US/Can release: Jun 21 2013
UK/Ire release: Jul 12 2013

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated I: Inoffensive in all possible ways
MPAA: rated G
BBFC: rated U (contains mild slapstick and comic threat)

viewed in 3D
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Pixar getting desperate? Not a good sign. :(

  • To be fair, I loved Monsters Inc (there was an inventiveness to it). But it did well enough to stand on its own. Like you said, there wasn’t anything about it that required a sequel/prequel treatment (I dread the possibility of an Incredibles sequel: one is not needed, but the marketability of superheroes nowadays makes it too likely).

  • I loved this movie. I don’t understand the lack of critical enthusiasm. How many movies, especially kids movies, have a central thread about the slow death of a protagonist’s dream even though he’s the smartest and hardest working person around? That wasn’t at all interesting or moving for you?

    I wasn’t a huge fan of the first film. I liked it, but I didn’t consider it a top tier Pixar effort like The Incredibles, Wall-E or Up. But this movie really hit home in a way that few movies do. It dares to tell kids that life sometimes will kick you in the teeth, that sometimes that, even if you work hard and dream hard, things won’t pan out and you’ll have to find another way to find the pride and will to move on with your life. That’s a hard lesson, one most movies, especially family films, shy away from. Monsters University didn’t do that. It stared it straight in the face and didn’t flinch.

  • Marco Salvatori

    Just saw it with my daughter tonight. Very disappointing. Her excitement deflated within the first ten minutes and never really picked up after that. I was semi-amused at times, but compared to the original it is a far cry on the originality factor and an incoherent mess of a story with some rather drab points about honesty and self-esteem. Pixar’s efforts have been lukewarm as of lately. I honestly could use less sequels to Toy Story and Cars, or prequels like Monsters U, and more original ideas like Wall-E or The Incredibles. Come on, Pixar! Where did the magic go?

  • Alec Chu

    I was so crushed when Mike, who didn’t just want it the most, but tried the most, didn’t make it. It went against every other childhood film and was amazing. The references make me so excited. Oh, and this isn’t a sequel. It’s a prequel. I thought a movie critic would know the difference.

  • RogerBW

    Just like (the way pop culture thirty years ago portrayed) a human university. Though I suspect that the target audience wasn’t watching films, or indeed alive, in the 1980s. So maybe they won’t spot the “homages”?

    So: is Pixar dead, a hollowed-out shambling shell of its original self that’s only kept alive because a few people still have a positive reaction to the name? Was it just John Lasseter? (But as well as the good stuff, he directed A Bug’s Life and Cars and even Cars 2!)

  • It’s a second film in the series, wherever it falls in the timeline of the story. Monsters Inc needed a prequel even less than it needed a sequel.

    “Didn’t make it”? What does that mean? We already know that Mike fulfills his dream of working at Monsters Inc, because we already know he gets to work there.

  • What slow death of what dream? We already know that Mike ends up working at Monsters Inc. There was absolutely nothing uncertain about this.

  • His dream wasn’t to work at Monsters, Inc. His dream was to be a scarer. That’s like saying your dream is to be an astronaut and you end up at ground control at NASA. It’s not where he works, it’s what he does.

  • Alan

    Very well said, Howard and I completely agree. Mary Ann, you make very good points, but Howard isnt trying to convince you that he’s “right” but offers a point if view that differs from you, which I feel that better represents how I felt about the film. Though I do agree with you that Pixar didn’t deliver and would’ve enjoyed this much better as an add-on bonus dvd feature tte rather than full feature film.

  • Alan

    We need to ask Pixar to make a movie geared for adults that crossover to kids appeal, not the other way around; since we’re their harshest critics now lol. Pixar still deserves credit where credit is due, but they’ve set the bar so high for themselves so early on, that if they continue to churn out movies within their niche, studios like DreamWorks and universal will be in a better position to impress us.

  • I blogged out my thoughts in more detail if you’re interested. http://hckleinman.tumblr.com/post/53607985388/death-of-a-scaresman-why-monsters-universitys-mike

  • Guest

    It was a prequel not a sequel, so the fact that it didn’t call for a sequel means nothing.

  • Anto Margitay

    And, who are you, sweet lady, to decide that a movie needs a sequel/ prequel or not? People loved Monsters Inc., loved its characters, many folks, including me, expected and even contacted Pixar for a new movie with those characters. Still, here come Mrs. Smarty Pants with her know- it -all sourpuss demeanor to say what she thinks is the absolute truth. Get another job, bitch.

  • sam

    every one has a opinion but this is this is a prequel and kids loved it. who are you too judge a kids movie?

  • Mike Wazowski

    What? My dream in life was to become a SCARER, not to work at Monster’s Inc. The first 10 minutes of the movie were entirely devoted showing that this was my lifelong goal and dream! I took a job in the mail room at Monster’s Inc. only because I was expelled!!!

  • Michelle Eavey

    Hello Mary Ann…yes Mike works at Monster’s Inc but he is NOT a scarer….he’s Sully’s assistant. That is the slow death of a lifelong dream….All Mike wants to do is be a scarer but reality becomes clear he will not ever get that dream

  • But where is the suspense in your story, Mike? We already know you are deliriously happy with your life — we learned this in the first movie.

  • Flightless

    Pssst, MaryAnn… It’s a prequel.

  • Abhijit Kankanala

    You clearly are a bad film critic. And its a prequel, not a sequel. That makes you an even worse film critic. -__-

  • amanohyo

    You clearly are a bad commenter. Good commenters scan the previous comments, add new ideas to the discussion, and/or are entertaining. And the prequel/sequel issue was addressed below. That makes you an even worse commenter… superfluous even. ^__^

    Unless of course you’d like to elaborate by justifying your observations as I and many below me have attempted to do. You might start by laying your trusty ad hominem aside and briefly describing what you enjoyed about the movie.

  • amanohyo

    Damn straight sam. My kids loved this movie almost as much as they love Marshmallows, Mountain Dew, donuts, whipped cream and corndogs. And that smarmy Doctor Oz had the nerve to say I shouldn’t stuff corndogs and marshmallows into a donut, cover the whole thing in whipped cream, serve it to my kids, and let them wash it down with a six pack of Mountain Dew? We call it the Dew-Doggie Donut Deluxe around my house, and there’s nothing my kids love more than kicking back on the couch with a couple 4D’s after a hard day at school.

    All those “experts” are a bunch of clueless judgmental bastards trying to tell us what our kids should consume. And it’s all so obviously made for kids – look at the sprinkles and the bright colors on the labels! Are those dumbasses all blind? Listen to those adorable giggles – you seriously expect me to destroy that little ray of sunshine, so pure, so happy, so full of simple wisdom? My little girl in particular is wise beyond her years – just yesterday she pulled a marshmallow out of her nose without any help from me, her mom, or her big brother.

    Judge not lest ye be judged. That’s what I always say. I’d just like to see Mary Anne try and make a better movie. You know what? I bet she doesn’t even have kids. I never trust important family purchasing decisions to anyone who doesn’t have kids of their own… unless it’s my kids of course – I’d trust those two little savants with anything.

    P.S. It’s a prequel not a sequel Mary.

  • The suspense is in waiting for his reaction to his dream being crushed and in seeing how he will pull himself back together afterwards. Where’s the suspense in Batman Begins? We already know he’ll end up becoming Batman.

  • For pete’s sake: it’s a sequel *and* it’s a prequel. A prequel is a kind of sequel.

    Do you have something constructive to add to the conversation, or shall I delete your comment?

  • A prequel is a kind of sequel.

    Now, unless you have something constructive to add to the conversation, I will delete your comment.

  • I saw nothing in the least bit interesting about how Mike behaves in this movie. On the contrary, *Batman Begins* goes about showing us how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman in a very compelling way.

    What did *you* find interesting about how Mike supposedly pulls himself back together again?

  • First of all the fact that he does it at all. It’s a hell of a thing to work towards something for most of your life and for it fall apart completely in your face. Usually in these sorts of movies, the hero will come through in the end. He will work hard, he will struggle, and he will succeed, surpassing everyone’s expectations, conquering everyone who doubted him, and winning by virtue of working hard enough and being smart enough. But Mike isn’t scary innately and nothing he does can overcome that. So he finally reaches a point where he moves past self-denial. He acknowledges that he will never be a scarer, that his dream will amount to nothing. A lot of people would not be able to face that kind of reversal. They will claw endlessly against the walls of their inescapable prisons they’ve built for themselves out of fantasy. Mike acknolwedges the futility of his situation. That is a difficult thing to do. It takes swallowing a lot of pride, and it takes admitting that the people who doubted you are right. It takes unbuilding a version of yourself you’ve been constructing in your own mind for years and trying to see the person that you actually are, what you can actually accomplish and find value in that rather than in your fantasies. yes, Mike quickly finds a good use of his intelligence and his skils when he uses them to direct Sully.

    I saw Mike ultimately as someone who goes to film school to become an actor and ultimately becomes a director. It’s a different role than the one he envisioned for himself and its own Sully can’t succeed without, but it means that Mike will never get to taste that moment of glory when he actually scares a kid. It means reflecting in someone else’s glory, the glory that you wanted for yourself but would not achieve. Yes, Mike’s in a better place in Monsters Inc. than he is at the end of Monsters University, but it’s not without a challenging and meaningful struggle to accept the parts of himself that he can never change.

    That might be uninteresting to you, but I found it incredibly compelling and it left a big lump in my throat by the time the credits rolled.

  • The way you describe it is *far* more compelling than it comes across in the film.

  • I thought this was a fun movie, better than Cars 2 or Brave in my opinion. The heavy male cast was a bit of a bother for me too, but it didn’t detract from what was generally a good story.

    I’m really confused by the insistence that since we know the end of the tale, somehow the journey is irrelevant. By that measure, Apollo 13 should have been a bomb since its following a historic event. I for one had fun watching characters we knew already grow up and the ending still surprised me, because I didn’t expect the details of how he ended up working on the scare floor.

    There are certainly better animated films out there, but this one isn’t by any means bad, in my opinion.

  • I’m really confused by the insistence that since we know the end of the tale, somehow the journey is irrelevant

    I never said.

    By that measure, Apollo 13 should have been a bomb since its following a historic event.

    Bingo. And yet that’s a *great* film. This is NOT a great film because it doesn’t tell us anything new or fresh or unexpected on the way to its predetermined ending.

  • I’m a film critic. It’s what film critics do.

  • Ah. My opinion differs on whether anything unexpected occurred, but that’s okay. Everyone’s ‘unexpected’ is different based on their experiences and decisions. I suppose I didn’t learn much about who Mike and Sully are after this film, but felt there were unexpected beats in the trail that led to them becoming scarers.

    Anyway, I feel like people in these comments are being unfairly vindictive towards you MaryAnn. Everyone has a right to an opinion, film critics and internet juvenilia alike. :)

  • dwa4

    Saw this last night. While the first half of the film is a bit weak, I would have to heartily agree with Howard. I found Mike’s vigor and enthusiasm (both very well told for those I have seen with high goals and drive) followed by his sudden realization that the machine was dialed down for him (that was not predictable to me and I did not see that coming..very well told) incredibly compelling. That whole section of the film where he is confronted and coming to grips that he is not what he thought he was and is not going to be what he has worked so hard and has so much desire to be was wonderfully told. His persistence to then venture into the real world to continue to prove to himself that he could achieve his dream was again a very well told and not a particularly expected part of the story. Loved the seen with him and Sully sitting by the lake coming to grips with their situation..no music in the background..just story, quiet and conversation that felt very authentic and not manufactured. Loved that they did not just readmit them to the university. Have a very talented son whose desire was to be in architectural engineering and worked to get to this in college and then was confronted with the reality of calculus II and III. That section of the film was scarily authentic to the mood, conversations, realizations, feeling and recalibrations he/we went through. Had very good conversations with my other children after that film. Less of a young children’s movie and more of an adult story.
    Have been trying to think of another film that tells that particular story in a more simple, compelling, entertaining way and have not thought of it…then again…movies are not my forte.

  • Ruth Dubb

    Beautifully said.

  • Damian Barajas

    Actually, as we see at the end of Monsters Inc, when Mike’s Picture is blocked out by a barcode, and as soon as he gets his picture taken at the university in this movie. Mike is unflappable, in fact, he’s impervious to flap! Mike bouncing back from a chrushed dream is a joke in the movie. That punch wasnt so much as telegraphed, it was emailed, spammed, broadcast on radio, television, youtube videos, and a little prop plane flew above MU with the punchline while it was happening. It was a running gag.

    Sure, a good point for the movie is its realization that higher education is becoming irrelevant for a lot of current jobs, it shows, doesn’t tell that hard work and dedication above all is important, but I was never left with the impression watching the first movie that Mike was anything other than happy! The fact that he has an unfulfilled dream comes out of left field, in fact it felt contrived.

    My son loved the movie, It wont be getting played much in this house though.

  • banapaulo

    It’s a sprequel, not a prequel.

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