“Monsters, Inc.”(2001) was not one of the better animation films from Pixar Animation Studios, but it was an enjoyable one despite its weaknesses, and I had a nice personal memory about it. It was late December in 2001, and, right after enjoying the first Harry Potter movie which was released around that time, I quickly went to the other screening room showing that animation film, and I had another good time thanks to its colorful fun with ‘scary’ monsters and their wonderful closet doors.
Now I have moved forward from my adolescent/college years during that time in one direction, and “Monster University”, the prequel to “Monsters, Inc.”, moves in the opposite direction which may appeal more to the adult audiences little younger than me. They probably enjoyed “Monsters, Inc.” as young kids adoring its odd duo, and many of them may find “Monster University” paradoxically coming closer to them through going backward from the previous film.
The story is about how the odd couple of “Monsters, Inc.”, James P. “Sulley” Sullivan and Mike Wazowski, met each other during their first year at the Monster University, the Ivy League university of their world which usually guarantees the promising career as ‘scarer’ to its monster students after their graduation. Many famous scarers from this university work in the energy company named Monsters, Inc., and, as depicted in the previous film, they bravely go through the portals connected to the bedroom closet doors in our world to scare the hell out of the children sleeping at night. After harvesting the energy for their city from children’s screaming, they return to their world as soon as possible because, ironically, the monsters in the film are quite scared of children, which have been regarded by them as something as toxic as radioactive waste(this looks pretty silly if you remember how the story of the previous film ended).
Impressed by these scarers at their work when he and other kids visited the Monsters, Inc. during their field trip, young Mike immediately wished to be a good scarer like them, but the harsh reality reminded him that he did not look scary from the beginning. Compared to his classmates, who look actually pretty cute despite their teeth, claws, tentacles, and other weird appendages, Mike already looks like a born underachiever considering that he looks like a green billiard ball with one big round eye.
But he does not give up his dream even after several years, so he enrolls in the Monster University as a Scaring major. Although he still does not look scary, Mike(voiced by Billy Crystal from this point) is hopeful and optimistic, and he is ready to do anything for passing the final exam at the end of the semester. As soon as he walks into the university, we see him whirled around the busy atmosphere of the campus welcoming its freshmen, and I must say this sight was amusingly alien to me as an audience whose freshman year at KAIST was a lot more uneventful compared to that. I moved to my dormitory with others, and I bought textbooks, and I prepared for lectures, and that was all I can remember about my first days as an undergraduate student who only cared about study, books, music, and movies(and I was not that interested in girls, let alone boys).
Mike’s first day at the Scaring department does not look that promising. While his classmates including Sulley(voiced by John Goodman) have more potentials thanks to their inherent talents, Dean Hardscrabble(voiced by Helen Mirren), who looks like a cross between dragon and centipede if that ever happens, does not highly think of Mike or her other students. After all, she is a legendary scarer who won’t be easily impressed – or surprised, shall we say.
While finding himself against the wall no matter how much he tries, Mike continues his diligent efforts, but he eventually gets stuck with the fraternity members of Oozma Kappa, the most unpopular(and the least scary) fraternity in the campus. Because of Mike’s determination to be accepted and recognized, Mike and Oozma Kappa members come to be in the competition with more talented fraternities in the Scare Game, and Sulley, who was kicked out of the program along with Mike due to their disastrous conflict, also joins them because Oozma Kappa needs one more member for the Scare Game and Sulley also wants to be reaccepted into the program like Mike.
Now you can see the movie following a typical plot of mismatched underdogs surprising themselves and others by how much they can rise to the occasion, but the story is driven with vibrant energy and enough wits, and there are several fun, exciting moments to be enjoyed as Mike and Sulley and their friends struggle to remain in the competition. The movie has more freedom and speed thank to the digital animation technology which has advanced a lot since “Monsters, Inc.”, and, while that aspect is no longer a surprise to us in these days thank to the constant stream of digital animation films at theaters(remember how much we were amazed by those painstaking details shown through Sulley’s fur?), the movie is entertaining to watch on the whole as it joyfully rolls its colorful characters on its small playground.
As they did in the previous film, Billy Crystal and John Goodman have a nice chemistry together as two contrasting personalities recognizing each other through their adventures and disputes, and other notable actors like Helen Mirren and Steve Buscemi bring extra fun to the story as some of more distinctive monsters at the campus. I especially liked Don Carlton(voiced by Joel Murray), a chubby spectacled monster with tentacles who is not far from how I will probably look like if I spend ten more years at my dear campus.
Pixar has enjoyed many high points of their creativity and imagination during last 18 years, and, compared to them, “Monster University” is not exactly a high point to be mentioned with “Toy Story 2”(1999) or “Finding Nemo”(2003). It is surely a fun experience which made me and adult audiences laugh many times, and I enjoyed an effective and humorous use of the horror film conventions around the ending, but I must say the movie remains to be a lightweight effort compared to Pixar’s best works. At least, an average Pixar animation film looks a lot better when it is compared to more than half of animation films we see every year, and that is why we should cherish it for a while until Pixar surprises us again.