Lest we forget just how ground-breaking and earth shattering Monsters, Inc. was for the film world back in 2001 when it was released. Featuring state-of-the-art animation, there was widespread acclaim at the realism in Sulley's bristling coat and the attention to detail that oozed from every frame. Such gleaming aesthetic and decorative eye candy would have been flimsy if it were not backed up by an original and engaging story. Monsters, Inc. had that too, as many will protest. It was a film that surprised, startled and joyously confirmed that the Toy Story films were no fluke. A new major player in animation had arrived.
Fast forward to 2013 and the subsequent 12 years have seen many high watermarks in the Pixar story -- films that, along with the aforementioned, made Pixar a household name. Maybe now though is the right time for the team to return to their trusty and familiar monsters of old, but back when they were young.
It is at this juncture that the writer should probably confess that although he found the original film pleasant and could acknowledge its triumphs and virtues (as listed above), he was not a particularly effusive lover of the former film over all. However, many others did. It has become established as a beloved and hallowed animation film. One must accept the significance of the original and its status. Also, without it, we may not have accrued the wonderful titles that followed in its wake. It broke the mold and raised the bar. That cannot be ignored.
So, what do we have here? Well, the tale told is very much that of Mike and his development. Mike is young, passionate and ambitious in his desire to graduate from the Scare School within Monsters University. His ambition dwarfs his frame and his likely capacity for success in realizing his dream. He is furiously dedicated and studious though and takes matters very seriously indeed. Sulley, on the other hand, is louche in terms of his drive and laid-back to the point of being horizontal. He is adorned with the perfect credentials and genetics for achievement, but he is crippled, in a way, by his own sense of entitlement and lack of industrious input.
Mike and Sulley initially clash and do not get on. Their competitive entanglements lead to a showdown with the Scare School course leader, Dean Hardscrabble (voiced by Helen Mirren), and the pair find themselves tossed out of the school and without much hope. Confronted with a lack of options, they turn to a bunch of university misfits to attempt to remedy their predicament.
The detail that has been placed in the film is astounding. Five hundred different monsters were created, at an average of 25 per shot, to populate the university. Consideration has also been given as to how the characters of the original film may have looked at this point in their lives. Mike is embellished in his first introduction with a brace, which paves the way for a retainer as he arrives at the university. Sulley has an unkempt tuft of hair, which aptly mirrors the unruly rebelliousness of his nature. Randall is introduced as wearing spectacles, which is an impedance to his signature trick of vanishing into thin air. He is also initially shown in a different and more vulnerable light, as a monster yearning for acceptance.
The theme of longing for acceptance flows through this film, as does ambition, desire and identity. The poignancy of its message is not forced and it feels in keeping with the underdog spirit of the story without resolving on cliché.
The negative aspects of this film, if there are flaws to be found, lie in the fact that this story is less original than the first film. There has also been the employ of superfluous and ineffective 3-D for the cinema releases. The 3-D aspect is utterly redundant and adds nothing. This film is strong enough to not rely on gimmicks. In terms of the story being slightly hackneyed, this is true. The ingenuity in this feature lies in the genuine hilarity, the insightful spotlight on broader themes and, once again, the animation itself. It is not often that you get a film so finely balanced between comedy and profound comment. This feature commands both perfectly.
Director Dan Scanlon has managed the unlikely in this outing; he has, at the very least, matched the bar of the film's forebear. In these particular eyes, he's toppled it. This is a film that will live long after its cinema release and should be welcomed with open arms into homes across the world. Only a curmudgeon would not be melted by the exuberance and execution of Monsters University -- a film that is truly laugh-out loud funny, and is armed with an equally touching coda of a moral lesson that avoids the precipice of melodrama.
So what is to be the Pixar team's Monsters University grade? It could not be anything other an outright distinction with this particular assignment. This is an achievement that will be tough to match.
A stunningly realized piece of work.