With Toy Story 2 and 3, Pixar showed they could make sequels that were even better than what preceded them. Finding ways to build on characters for more intricate stories, more emotional connection and more of what made you love the original, without pandering. With Cars 2, Pixar showed they’re not above a blatant cash grab by exploiting the laziest, most clichéd title in their catalogue, with an even lazier, more clichéd sequel that amps up everything that was bad about the original. So with Monsters University, I wasn’t sure which style of Pixar sequel I was in for. And the answer, it’s a kind of a bit of both. But mercifully, it’s a lot closer to Toy Story 2 than Cars 2.
Monsters University is the origin story of Monster Inc’s Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman). Before they were best friends working in the scream collection business, they were college enemies. If you’ve ever seen a college based comedy, you know the story of Monsters University beat by beat, but that’s fine. This is about making you care about the characters and laugh at the jokes. The cast is rounded out by Mike and Sully’s band of loser fraternity brothers, one of whom is the clear stand out of the movie, Art, voiced by Charlie Day. This is a kids’ movie, so Art isn’t technically a stoner, but he is totally a stoner. And Day manages find a way to make this over used character cliché really funny by making him just a little unhinged and scary.
Here’s the one problem I had with Monsters University. If there’s a way to base a family movie on such a raunchy genre, these guys didn’t find it. Sure, a lot of the college movie standards come down to slobs versus snobs, but they were more than that. In the 70s, Animal House had the slobs of Delta Tau Chi battling the snobs of Omega Theta Pi, but it also revolved around chasing tail and getting high. In the 80s, Revenge of the Nerds told the inspirational story of the slobbish Tri Lambs taking on the snobbish Alpha Betas. But there’s also tail chasing, getting high and hair pie. These movies are also old enough now that not only are the kids seeing Monsters University unlikely to get a single reference, I lot of parents are probably too young to get them as well.
OK, I lied about only having one problem with Monsters University, because there is a second. And before I get into it, I am fully aware how ridiculous it is that I think this, but it bugged me for the entire movie. Why does Monsters University, the college Mike and Sully attend students, have the same logo as Monster Inc, the factory they end up working at as adults? Why is a learning institution so tightly connected to this massive corporation? It’s almost like the good people at Pixar were more concerned about brand recognition than they were with addressing this major issue that I’m sure no one but me even gave a second thought.