12 years after Monsters Inc, Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) return in one of the most successful and intelligent prequels ever made. Monsters University not only is a great Disney film, proving entertaining for both children and adults alike but is one of the most daring and bold animated films to have ever been released. Monsters University looks back at the days before Mike and Sully actually work together, back to when they first met at university and were studying to become monsters.
Whilst the original film was innovative in bringing to life two characters, who so easily embodied aspects of laughter and horror in children, the follow up somewhat humanises the monsters and makes them hugely relatable to the audience watching.
The film starts with a flashback to Mike at school, visiting the corporation, which he will one day work at. Briefly, the film explains the need to scare the children and fills in the gaps for those who haven’t seen the original film. Once again, the film is working on so many intelligent levels; making monsters fun for children but also alluding to the need for workers in everyday life and making some really rather interesting points on economics; of course those who see this may just be enjoying a slight over reading of the film.
Mike is so filled with joy at seeing those at work that he decides to try it himself, jumping through one of the doors – panic ensues. For a film to introduce the notion of such extreme panic early on, is interesting and really rather clever. Whilst many filmmakers may fail at this point, setting a high standard for the narrative and then just falling below par for the rest of the film; Dan Scanlon’s story and directing really just builds the audience up further and further in the film. At this point Mike learns about MU, the place that his idol went to study and where he now sets his sights. Scanlon then slowly goes about introducing the second theme of the film; that of being comfortable with yourself and what your skills are. Mike wants to go into the scare business, but he is constantly surrounded by those who put him down and tell him that he isn’t scary enough. The moral of the film is that rather than taking what other people say too seriously, there really is a way to do what you want to do, even if it requires a lot of hard work along the way.
When the film introduces the concept of the university, there is a slight imbalance between entertaining the children and the adults in the audience. Whilst many of the jokes are interested in growing up alongside the paraphernalia of going to university, it does still have a slight edge allowing entry for many of the children in the audience. It is still silly, funny and packed with plenty of action. But what Monsters University does better than perhaps any comedy or animation in the same category is that it is really is a story written for adults. Just as the original fans of Toy Story grew up with the characters and by the time, they reached the third, many were in the same situation as Andy going off and leaving home. Monsters University is the same fare; either the original audience are at university or have just left but regardless they are in a much more similar world to the characters than the new fans in the audience. The film doesn’t miss a single opportunity to allude to the antics that many people take part within at university; from drinking, to going out late and partying and generally being silly without working – gaining the skills that you will gradually need in life.
What is most interesting about Monsters University is the relationship between Mike and Sully, who are introduced in one of the classes. The two come from completely different worlds and their attitudes to their work is completely different; they couldn’t be further apart. Whilst Mike wants to concentrate and work, Sully is more than happy to steal a team mascot and run riot.
It is the character of Dean Hardscrabble who really adds to the mix of Monsters University, voiced by the simply incredible Helen Mirren, she is genuinely a horrifying character; think Miss Trunchbull meets Miranda Priestly but in a very English accent! Hardscrabble is the ultimate monster, scarring everyone that stands in her way. Mirren’s voice is instantly recognisable but she so wonderfully does evil well and carefully balances her character and speech, ensuring that she never falls into pantomime.
The film’s greatest feat is the championships that take place in the film; it is as if the Triwizard Tournament has met The Hunger Games but in cartoon form. As the teams are created, it becomes apparent that Mike and Sully are going to need to work together to ensure they get on successfully in the scare program – they have been forced together in an attempt to rise against Hardscrabble. As with any formulaic film, nothing very much changes. The two characters fight initially and have very little time to interact with the rest of their group as they are too busy trying to outwit each other. Then they realise if they work together, things will get better quickly, then further conflict and then the ending. It simply isn’t revolutionary in it’s structure but it is a proven method, which works.
What is divine about Monsters University is the ability to love and care about the characters, they embody so many emotions that they aren’t too unlike ourselves. The audience really do care about what is going to happen to Mike and Sully and whether they are going to win in the end. Furthermore, the animation is second to none. The colours are bright and bold, fully imagining the concepts of the haptic on screen and dazzling the audiences with every movement. A kids film, which really has been made for the adults in the audience, Monsters University is one of the funniest, most heartfelt pieces of cinema you will catch all year – really worth the wait.
Monsters University is accompanied by the new short, The Blue Umbrella, which is simply astounding. Whilst the entire film is computer generated, it looks like reality. It is a simple and yet beautiful story about a rainy city, where everyone walks in the same direction and looks the same. It is making a clear comment on the society that we live in today and yet a smily blue umbrella notices a red umbrella and for use of the word, falls in ‘love’. The umbrella will do whatever it has to, to make sure that it stays with the red umbrella and travels through the city, getting beaten and battered along the way. The film is really beautifully made and once again fulfils the Disney remit of clean, family entertainment.
Monsters University is out this Friday on July 12th.