Pixar has been playing around with hit franchises for the past few years with sequel after sequel, but nobody would have expected the Hercules of the animation world to come up with a prequel, much less one to the animation comedy Monsters, Inc. that‘s more than a decade old. After all, do we even need one? But this unexpectedly pleasant surprise is a welcome one for fans of Sully and Mike, though perhaps not as much for fans of the wide-eyed, pigtailed Boo.

We were rather skeptical when Pixar released its first teaser a year ago to the day, given its somewhat lacking offerings in recent years with subpar attempts (think Brave) and the multi-billion Cars franchise sequel that didn’t quite fire up. Is it really the best decision to come up with the first animated feature prequel?

Nevertheless, Pixar channeled a lot of time into publicising its US$115 million film franchise that garnered an estimated US$612 million in worldwide box office sales (both 2D and 3D). Various social media platforms were also used in its promotion tactics such as Facebook, Twitter and even Tumblr, or should we say, mugrumblr, a very realistic blog purportedly owned by a Monsters U undergrad, and a faux website complete with the Dean’s message, faculty profiles, hoodies to buy and other campus life details.

As the story goes, the elementary school version of Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) is awestruck by the “scarers” during a class trip to the Monsters, Inc. factory. Armed with that much career guidance, he’s determined to become one of the world’s scariest monsters. But first, he’s got to go to college, and that’s never been the most welcoming place for someone (human or monster) with a mouth full of braces and too few friends.

Bright-eyed (easier if you only have 1 eye) and chipper, Mike enrols in the reputed Scaring programme at the distinguished Monsters University ready to ace all his classes. The problem? The walking eyeball, though incredibly book smart, is nowhere near frightening – with his retainers and nerdy eagerness to answer questions. And for maximum dramatic impact, who else would his nemesis be but his future bromance pal, the furry purple-spotted aquamarine blue James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) whom we know better as Sulley. The young Sulley, with his swagger and the arrogance that comes from being the son of a world-class scarer, is nothing like the friendly and easy-going grown-up Sulley.

As expected, the contrasting pair starts off despising each other. Mike despises Sulley for being able to impress with just his hulking figure and a few choice roars. Sulley, on the other hand, scoffs at goody-two-shoed Mike, his geeky tendencies and overall absence of scare instincts.

On the brink of getting kicked out for failing their scare finals when they both get into the bad books of formidable Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), Mike makes a deal with the hard-to-impress principal to win the Scare Games, an annual Greek competition that determines the most fearsome organisation on campus, and prove that they have what it takes to stay in the School of Scaring. To do this, Mike’s forced to work with Sulley and the Oozma Kappa fraternity, known for its odd group of misfits. Yes, even among weird (by man’s standards) monsters, there are nerdy types and losers.

The script by Pixar story artist (and director) Dan Scanlon and screenwriters Robert L. Baird and Dan Gerson isn’t the most innovative or creative, but contains clever references to Harry Potter’s Triwizard tournament and The Hunger Games and frat jokes (“Tonight, we party like scarers!”) that are comical enough to tickle your funny bones.

Sufficient depth means that even the supporting characters are well rounded and each possesses individual characteristics and unique traits – from the blobby and innocent Squishy (Peter Sohn) to the wacky Art (“I have an extra toe! …Not with me, of course.”) (Charlie Day) – that earns even more adoration from the audience.

Using modern-day colleges as a backdrop means the team can use familiar and relatable themes of self-identity and the need to fit in, while retaining its light-heartedness with wild frat parties pulsing with energy, minus the smooching and drinking. This is, after all, a wholesome Disney/Pixar production…

One wouldn’t have predicted the prequel to focus on Mike’s life story when Sulley was obviously the main lead in the first, and throughout the movie, we often wonder what the relevance of this backstory is to the original. However, Pixar proves itself worthy once again as it uses its magical spark to cleanly tie up loose ends in the prequel to its counterpart (such as their relationship to Randy) that will leave you oohing and aahing.

Despite not being the best movie Pixar has made and not even comparable to the likes of Finding Nemoor Wall-E, Monsters University still gives a bang for the buck with its colourful visuals and sentimental characters, fitting itself slightly below Ratatouille. But what UrbanWire loves the most about the movie is how realistic – if heart-wrenching – its bold message about growing up is: your dreams may not be possible, no matter how hard you want or work for it. This is very different from the fairy tale messages of Disney’s previous works. Well, it’s worth waiting for the day when Idol wannabes don’t grow up with the deluded thinking that they’ll win, when they simply have no talent.


Rating: 4/5

Release Date: June 20

Runtime: 1 hr 43 mins

Language: English

Censorship rating: G

Genre: Comedy/Family/Animation

Director: Dan Scanlon

Main voiceovers: Billy Crystal, John Goodman