Film Review: Monsters University

18Mike Wasowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) are scare students at Monsters University. A rivalry ensues between the two to be top of the class and an accident gets them thrown off the course by the imposing Dean Hardscrabble (Dame Helen Mirren). Only by working together to win the annual Scare Games will they be allowed back on the course.

The release of Cars 2 in 2011 signalled a change in attitude from Pixar. Prior to that they had largely dealt only in new IPs (Toy Story being the exception) and had shied away from sequels. However, since then the Disney-owned company have followed Hollywood’s lead and started to revisit past successes. As well as the return of Lightning McQueen et al, we now have Cars spinoff Planes and Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory on the way. And then, of course, we have Monsters University, a prequel to the 2001 original and the Pixar franchise with arguably (again Toy Story aside) the most to lose.

The good news is that Monsters University is a worthy addition to Pixar’s portfolio. It does lack a little originality, but that’s to be expected; we don’t get that initial ‘wow factor’ as we’re already familiar with the film’s universe and its inhabitants. As such the film does labour slightly in the outset, although it soon picks up and we settle back in to where we were an amazing/depressing 12 years ago.

It’s a delight to be back with Mike and Sully, but the film does seem to rely on this almost nostalgic feeling a little too much. Whilst the scrapes the duo get themselves in are amusing, the stakes just never seem as high as they did in Monsters Inc. The worst that will ever happen is that Mike and Sully don’t get back on their scaring course; there’s never much in the way of peril to make you really worry about them.


What the film does show off is Pixar’s amazing character design. On top of the regular cast to which we’re now accustomed, we are introduced to a plethora of new characters, some playing major roles, others less so. However, the sheer number of incidental background characters is staggering and really does showcase Pixar’s imagination and attention to detail. From the Scare Games’ jock announcer to Mike and Sully’s furry, hippy biped friend, it’s a joy to let your eyes wander around the screen to check out the variety of characters.

One thing that did cross my mind was how well the film would hit the mark with a young audience. Pixar films always have a vein of adult humour running throughout to keep us older ones entertained, but they’re first and foremost children’s films. As such, I’m not sure if children will fully appreciate jokes based on university life. There’s still plenty of stuff for children to enjoy, but I don’t know if they’ll really get the maximum from it. Also, I don’t know if kids will properly understand the concept of a prequel. If your children have been to see it, please feel free to prove me wrong!

So for those worried that Pixar are on a slippery slope, Monsters University, at least for now, shows that they still have plenty in the ol’ think tank. Asking the film to live up to its predecessor was always going to be a near impossible task, but it does get about as close as you could hope for.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

Pixar short: The Blue Umbrella

It’s been customary for quite some time now for Disney and Pixar to screen short films before their main features (which makes it even more annoying when people grumble about having to sit through them) and their latest, The Blue Umbrella, is quite simply one of the most stunning pieces of animation you’re likely to have seen.

THE BLUE UMBRELLAThe Blue Umbrella is about a, erm, blue umbrella who meets a red umbrella amongst a sea of black umbrellas. However, the two become separated, with our little blue friend desperate to get back to his new fancy ‘lady’.

In terms of narrative, The Blue Umbrella is very similar to Paper Man (shown before Wreck-it Ralph). In fact, it’s probably a little too similar; originality is something that has always set these shorts apart, but it’s lacking somewhat here. But it’s in the animation that the film really amazes. There are times when you really won’t believe this is an animated feature; only our blue and red protagonists are obviously animated, which adds something to the whimsicality of the picture.

Whilst it is disappointing that The Blue Umbrella lacks a little something in originality, it’s still a delightful short and the perfect appetiser before the main feature.

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29 thoughts on “Film Review: Monsters University

  1. CMrok93 says:

    Nice review. I didn’t mind this movie really, I just wish it did more with the promise it’s story held.

  2. I had that same concern about kids and college humor, Chris, but I went with my niece and she certainly didn’t seem to miss any of the humor beats. So… I don’t think it comes into play.

    Meanwhile though, I had a great time with this one, glad to see you liked it too!

    • That’s good to hear Fogs, although I do still reckon some of the references will simply go over kids’ heads. Although I guess that’s often the case with their films and that’s why adults love them too. Either way, good to hear your niece had fun with it! I certainly did – a very satisfying addition.

  3. Gene says:

    Well written. I thought it was a bit slow to get going. About 1/2 hour in I was wondering if I had laughed yet. Once the Scare games started in it felt like the same kind of magic that made the first one great. And, I absolutely loved how they ended it. Just very simple and respectable, didn’t try to do add in a crazy twist or anything. Much appreciated there.

    • Thanks Gene. Yeah it was definitely when the Scare Games kicked in that it really found its feet. From then on, it was brilliant. I liked the ending, too. It wasn’t formulaic but was simple enough to perfectly link to Monsters Inc.

  4. ckckred says:

    Nice review. I don’t think I’ve seen a Pixar movie since Toy Story 3 and I loved the original Monsters Inc., so I’ll have to check this out.

  5. nediunedited says:

    I loved it! And yes–I was relieved, too. It truly is a worthy addition to their library. The best to me was the ending–what a great and unexpected way to lead to the original.

    And the Blue Umbrella animation is mind boggling, for sure! 🙂

    Glad you enjoyed it! Later!

  6. ruth says:

    Glad you enjoyed this Chris! Yeah, despite my initial dread that it’s yet another sequel, I agree that “…Monsters University is a worthy addition to Pixar’s portfolio.” It’s fun and surprisingly engaging throughout. I quite enjoyed watching the origin story of Mike & Sully’s friendship.

    As for Blue Umbrella, yeah it’s not original but still has the power to be oh-so-enchanting.

    • I liked seeing their origin story too. I liked that they had a bit of a story arc rather than just more of the same from Monsters Inc. It added a little something different to their relationship.

      Good to see Pixar haven’t lost their touch just yet!

      • ruth says:

        Yeah, I thought the early rivalry between Mike n Sulley was well-written. Plus the supporting cast like Helen Mirren, etc. are excellent!

      • The supporting cast really were excellent and there were plenty of people I didn’t even realise were in it until I looked it up afterwards, such as Alfred Molina.

  7. Tyson Carter says:

    I’m glad this movie did well. I enjoyed the first one, and will see this when my wife inevitably buys the blu ray 🙂

    • If you liked the first one then I think there’s a good chance you’ll like this. You’ll be seeing plenty of this kinda stuff when Lil Head in a Vice comes along 🙂

      • Tyson Carter says:

        My wife keeps reminding me. She has pretty much every Disney/Pixar etc ever released, so my poor child and I will be watching it all. Until the wife leaves for work, then it’s Goodfellas & Casino all the way 🙂

  8. Mark Hobin says:

    Monsters University was like an animated version of Revenge of the Nerds. And you know what? I loved it. So much fun.

  9. le0pard13 says:

    Had to great time with this, Chris. Your review and this Pixar film. Well done.

  10. table9mutant says:

    Good review. Yes, I also think there’s less for actual kids in this one. They won’t understand University life (especially such an American take on it, for those outside the US). No way could it live up to the brilliant original but at least it’s still a worthy addition. 🙂

    • Thanks! Yeah I don’t reckon the kids will get some of the humour. I mean, there’s plenty for kids, like loads of the usual slapstick stuff, but I don’t think they’ll get the university stereotypes that are used. That’s what’s so great about Pixar though I guess, there’s humour for everyone.

  11. With Monsters University being a prequel, it’s hard for the film to surprise since we already know the outcome (although the film’s last act gives a few surprises). The film does play it a lot on the safe side, but its constant entertainment saves the film from falling into Cars 2 territory.

    Enjoyable film, if not a little safe.
    Nice review!

    • Thank you! I agree, there weren’t a whole lot of surprises and the fact we know Mike and Sully end up friends and working for Monsters Inc does detract from it a little but it’s still a huge amount of fun and the whole thing was handled about as well as I could have hoped.

  12. Like you said, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original, but it’s still a very fun film. As for The Blue Umbrella, I agree it suffers from being too similar to Paperman in tone. Incredible visuals, though.

  13. filmhipster says:

    I think I had more fun with this film than the original. Call me crazy I guess. The Blue Umbrella was alright but my daughter was getting a little impatient and wanted to get to the main feature already. With all the commercials and trailers, it took like a half hour to get to it.

    • Nah that’s not crazy, I thought it was pretty close to the original in fun factor, so it’s no massive surprise that you enjoyed it more. I thought it was more lighthearted than the last one.
      As for The Blue Umbrella, a lot of kids and parents were getting restless whilst it was on. I love the short films but it does add quite a bit to the running time, especially with trailers and ads.

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