Dean Hardscrabble: Scariness is the true measure of a monster. If you are not scary, what kind of a monster are you?
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
One of the greatest things about Monsters Inc. was the bond between Sulley and Boo. And it opened up some insightful possibilities for a sequel of what things would be like if Boo grew up. Instead we got a prequel twelve years later and while it’s perfectly serviceable, it still doesn’t rank among the greatest of Pixar.
The story involves young Mike Wazowski who dreams of becoming a scarer in the world of monsters. In order to do so he enrolls in the scare program at Monsters University where he meets and develops a rivalry with James P. Sullivan aka Sulley. Their rivalry results in the dean kicking them out of the program. In attempt to get back in Mike makes a deal with the dean by entering the scare games with Sulley and a bunch of other misfits: If he and his team win he can return to the Scare Program. If not he is expelled.
When it comes to the story ignoring the huge continuity plot hole, it is rather predictable in the awkward Mike striving to be the best despite being an underdog, Sulley being the rival who socially upstages him but as time goes on they learn to become friends with one another, and the team being a bunch of goofs who need to learn the name of the game. And of course they compete against a rival team in one final showdown. These tropes have been done in several 80s movies and the movie doesn’t really do much new with them. The real surprise comes towards the last third where it turns out Sulley rigged the match for Mike and it enrages and leads him to prove to be a scarer by going into the human world which leads to a legitimate heartfelt and tense scene with him and Sulley unable to escape. And in surprising turn of events they get expelled. The movie has a good moral about not having to follow a traditional path as everyone else to achieve your dreams with the last third and it’s delivered in a good way and it’s something not discussed very often. It’s just you have to sit through a lot of predictability to get to this point. The story is mostly within the campus and for one of monsters there isn’t much unique about it.
The movie’s best point is the animation. Through the twelve years you see vast improvement in the monster’s designs and their textures with things like fur, skin, scales, hard shells, feathers, hair, and just about anything. They took these things and animated them down to the letter. In regards to the rest of the animation, they did well in taking the classic characters like Sulley, Mike, and Randall and making them look younger by making them smaller and their expressions more wide-eyed which helped in signifying them as inquisitive newcomers. The designs of the monsters are unique and signify what little kids would think of when they thought of monsters. With a good variety of characters it gives the animators a lot to work with.
In regards to the characters Mike is pretty much the young striving hero with the ambition to prove himself against everyone who thinks little of him and Sulley is the popular jerk who sees himself as the best. And as I stated before, there’s nothing interesting about their rivalry or friendship.
Randall was at first an interesting character with him starting off as a friend and roommate to Mike and how he learned to be scary with his friend’s help. But in the middle he mostly fades into being a background character with the rival team Roar Omega Roar. And the people of Roar Omega Roar are mostly made up of the popular jocks.
The characters of Mike’s team, are largely nerdy rejects whose sole purpose is as comic relief but the movie does try to make them likable in a sense.
Finally there’s Dean Hardscrabble. The way she’s animated in her design, movements, and personality give the impression that she’s a villain but we see that she has a rather cold and no-nonsense approach. But we would see she has some level of heart as even though she expels them at the end she still sees promise in them.
This isn’t the worst for Pixar, but for an animation studio that gave us so many beautiful worlds with captivating characters, this is rather underwhelming. It does have some great animation but its storytelling doesn’t compliment it with it mostly being predictable until the end. Kids and adults can watch it as it’s in no way insulting but for those who are in search of Pixar going where few will go in the world of animation, this will probably scare you away.