A coming-of-age tale with a difference…
There’s a David Berman lyric that asks why monsters can’t get along with other monsters. In some ways, Monsters University answers that question. Set 10 years before the magnificent Monsters, Inc., Pixar deliver a worthy prequel that will appeal to everyone: adults, children and monsters.
Mike and Sully (aged 17 and 18) meet for the first time at a university redolent of the real world, aside from the monsters being more literal. The influx of new students swarm across dorm rooms and society fairs, like an ‘80s frat comedy. Amid the chaos, it’s perhaps more gag-heavy than usual for Pixar. Luckily, it bridges that humour with sweetness and wit.
Monsters, Inc. was a surprisingly poignant meditation on parenthood, and Monsters University does something similar from a child’s perspective. The adults’ looming heights suggest a child’s POV (the grown up characters may as well have used the Charlie Brown “wah wah wah” voice) but never in an obtrusive manner that would alienate older viewers.
The storyline doesn’t quite follow the life-or-death Pixar formula (typically a rescue mission), so the drama is more on an emotional level. That’s not to say there isn’t any action – it is, after all, a diligently animated adventure starring idiosyncratic, multicoloured creatures. It’s just that the central goal (winning a scaring competition) doesn’t involve an incinerator or WALL-E rescuing the human race.
Monsters University has a gentler tone that’s concerned with how friendships are formed. It’s possibly the best visual representation of strangers finding common interests, at least since, well, Toy Story 3. In a screening full of adults (albeit journalists), I felt the warmth resonating around the room, and even heard an “aw” for a snail. In terms of prequels, this is the opposite of The Phantom Menace.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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