[Pixar Countdown Reviews] ‘Monsters University’ is a Prequel That Lives Up to the Original Masterpiece

Welcome back to Pixar Countdown Reviews, which we take a look at and review all seventeen theatrical Pixar films every Friday leading up to the release of Pixar’s Cars 3 this summer. Take a look back at some of our previous entries and stay tuned every Friday as we cover all of Pixar’s incredible films. 

Prequels are often the most boring way to expand upon a franchise. Just look at the Star Wars prequels. It’s no wonder prequels have such a stigma! However, Monsters University is by far the greatest prequel I have ever seen. It does everything right, expanding the world and developing the characters, making it a film that is just as good as Monsters, Inc.

While Monsters, Inc. was Sulley’s story, Monsters University puts the focus on Mike, a bookworm who dreams of becoming a scarer and has the grades for it but lacks a natural talent. This character focus is what makes both films complement each other so well. Both films don’t focus on the same character and give both Mike and Sulley their own story, all while expanding upon the monster world and the roster of side characters.

Speaking of the side characters, this film has a fantastic cast of both returning and new characters. Alongside Mike and Sulley, Randall returns, but here he is a geek who is trying to fit in. It’s pretty humorous. It also gives insight into why Randall hates Mike and Sulley. Then there are the new characters, such as the members of Oozma Kappa. Each and every one of them had me consistently laughing, especially Art, who I consider to be my spirit animal. While this is Mike’s story, each of the members of Oozma Kappa have their own stories, which I think really highlights how diverse university is and it is handled really well. Another great character is Dean Hardscrabble, who is a very creepy, intense character who walks on hundreds of gross little centipede legs and bat wings. She’s really cool to look at, but it makes my skin crawl at the same time.

Prequels are usually very predictable. If you saw the original movie the prequel is based on, you know how it is going to end. Monsters University focuses more on how the characters got to where they are in Monsters, Inc. which creates a lot of surprise twists in the story. It’s a very unpredictable film, and that’s what makes it such an amazing, well-done prequel. It also deals with some very realistic themes. It is a film about how your dreams cannot always come true. While so many films tell you that anything can happen if you wish for it to happen, this film takes a more realistic approach. It’s a theme that is very relatable, especially for university students.

The animation in the film is stunning. As I have mentioned before in this series of reviews, every Pixar film has some new innovation in their films. They like to constantly push technology forward. Monsters University is their first film to use a technique called Global Illumination, which creates better, more natural lighting effects. The end result is stunning lighting to illuminate the gorgeous imagery, characters, and set design that we see in the film.

The direction is great here as well. Dan Scanlon makes his directorial debut with this film and takes every opportunity to show off his directing skills. I remember listening to the audio commentary on the film’s Blu-Ray, where he said that throughout the film, he used this technique where whenever a character is in a dark place emotionally, the lighting around that character is more shadowy. I think that was a neat little detail that, along with all the other little details, make for a very well-directed movie.

The score is beautiful and really fits the film tonally. Composed by Randy Newman, who also composed the score for Monsters, Inc., the score goes from that upbeat, fun university vibe to somber and poignant where it needs to be. He also managed to put a bit of the score from Monsters, Inc. in there. It all feels very authentic and adds to the film’s university setting.

Monsters University is a fantastic film. It’s as great a film as Monsters, Inc., but at the same time, manages to be very different from it. It’s not just a rehash, and after realizing that there aren’t any animated films in a university setting (that I know of, at least), I think that just makes this film so much more unique and enjoyable. It’s another very underrated Pixar film that I think is worth giving a second chance if you didn’t like it on your first viewing.

Film Grade: A+

Pixar Countdown Reviews returns this Friday with a review of Pixar’s Inside Out.