June 25, 2013
Family Film Blogging: Monsters University
Posted by Christine Hurt

Mu2This weekend, I took four boys aged 5,6,9 and 11 to see Monsters University, along with most of the rest of the town.  (The obviously fictional institution has its own webpage here.)  The next showing was sold out, so he had to wair for the next one.  It was worth the wait.  Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the movie, which has re-energized sales of Monsters, Inc. merchandise.

MU is a prequel, which seems to be a risky endeavor.  Writing what comes next seems a little more open than writing what came before.  (Think episodes I, II, and III of Star Wars, and how many disconnects there are between them and IV, V and VI.)  Now, the elementary age set is probably not going to get too picky about oversights the way that the SW fans do, but it's still a tricky thing to get from the opening of the prequel to the end, which the audience already knows.

So, when MU opens, Mike Wazowksi is the focus of the story.  Monsters, Inc. was really about Sulley, and sort of about Mike, but here the narrative goes the other way.  From almost the beginning, Mike and Randall are roommates and "lifelong friends," and Jim Sullivan (Sulley) is Mike's worst enemy.  Randall is helpful and earnest, and Sulley is arrogant and insensitive.  So, the movie has to take our characters to what we know:  Randall is evil, and Sulley is warm-hearted and selfless.  The smaller journey is for Mike to go from being a Type A know-it-all to a team player.

Mike, as you know, is a cute, one-eyed green monster, who is very small.  He would make a good plush pillow, but he's not scary.  This is Mike's obstacle to being a "scare major" at Monsters University.  He has effort and book knowledge, but just no scariness.  Sulely, on the other hand, is a legacy admit at MU who has raw scaring ability, but he doesn't apply himself or learn any of the strategy of scaring.  They each find themselves thrown out of the scare program and can only be readmitted if they win a Greek Life team scare competition.  To enter, they join the lamest fraternity ever and try to whip the Oozma Kappas into scaring shape.  (Yes, a little like Revenge of the Nerds.)  The scenes at the OK house are undeniably the funniest in the film.  I won't spoil the ending, but it didn't end like I thought it would.  But, all in all, I think the montage chronicling the years in between the end of MU and the beginning of MI tell us more about Sulley's metamorphosis from entitled brat to best pal than any action or dialogue could have.

The big "Star Wars"-type disconnect that I can point out lies with Mike.  In MU, Sully tells Mike that he is the bravest monster he's ever known.  And Mike is.  As a child, he sneaks through an open door at Monsters, Inc. into a child's bedroom.  Later in the movie, he sneaks through another open door into a bunk bed filled camp cabin.  At no time does he seem afraid of human children, even though he's been told they are toxic.  So, why is he so afraid of Boo in MI?  And, as a monster who broke so many rules in MU, why is he so risk-averse about his job and the scare-record competition in MI?  Perhaps age hardened Mike from the dreamer of MU to the wage slave of MI.  But, one of the problems with prequels is that you could have written that action into the original.  Sully could have pleaded with Mike to help him with Boo by reminding him of the brave monster of action he used to be.

But quibbles aside, MU is a great movie.  The university setting is a great environment for all kinds of jokes, gags, funny personalities and events.  There are many recognizable cameos from MI.  My son and I want to go back and compare the two movies to see how many background monsters are repeated between the MU student body and the MI workforce.  And, it's not as scary as the original.  The opening scene of MI had our firstborn running out of the theater, never too return.  There is no similar scene. 

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