Monsters University entered theaters as a smashing success, garnering a fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating – albeit not as high as most previous Pixar entries – and even earned a cool $82 million weekend opening (up to almost $160 million at last check). But what contributed to Monsters operating in such fine fashion?
Here are 13 very lucky reasons I believe worked collectively in making Monsters University score high marks.
1. Humor in full force How many of Pixar’s entries can contend with Finding Nemo or Monsters, Inc. as one of its funniest? Add University to the list in its unstoppable and natural hilarity. The quotes are top-notch clever. Take Art, the flexible purple monster who enjoys philosophy and served time in jail. “I have an extra toe! …not with me, of course.” Sure, Art. Sure.
2. Startling visuals Pixar’s advancements in lighting are apparent in University, most so during the outdoor campus scenes that glow with authentic radiance. How could lighting make a film more entertaining? It may not, but the notable improvements in the technical elements – even in the monsters’ hair or the level of architectural detail – reveal the studio’s fine attention to setting new standards. That’s entertaining all in itself.
3. Compelling underdog story Everyone roots for the little guy. In this case we are supporting the little, one-eyed guy. Mike Wazowski steals the spotlight, and his compelling story of proving himself as a scarer – though he realizes his other abilities are what set him apart best – is winning in every way. I love how Pixar broke tradition against the “dreams come true” mentality that symbolizes most family films. Sometimes aspirations go uncompleted, yet new ones emerge in light of that.
4. Surprising moments Though audience members know the general direction the movie will take (eventually the heroes will work at Monsters, Inc.), the path in which they reach that point takes shocking turns. The twist in the climax shows evidence of how Pixar can throw a bombshell in its rather-normal narrative structure. Rarely do I exclaim “whoa” during a movie, but I sure did during that pivotal scene.
5. The Blue Umbrella It cannot be disputed that Pixar’s most recent short film, a photorealistic exercise in cinematic amazement, is also one of its best. The touching story of one inanimate object longing to be with his contrastingly-colored umbrella companion drops all the right notes. Sweetness. Resourcefulness. Imagination. Though not exactly part of University, this addition helps to complete an audience member’s time at the movie as fulfilling.
6. Randy Newman’s enthusiastic score Pixar’s go-to composer returns to score the Monsters prequel in traditionally-comforting Newman form. The legendary musician affords a handful of musical cues from the original – including the thumping “Scare Floor” melody – that play in nicely into his new arrangements. The college pride smoothly carries into his new and fun tracks that deserve a listen outside the context of the movie, too.
7. Voice acting Hollywood stars Billy Crystal and John Goodman deliver in their returning roles of Mike and Sulley, and they manage to add depth in their characters. Mike comes forward as more persistent, whereas Sulley appears more troubled. These gifted performers are responsible for showing their well-roundedness. New cast members, including Helen Mirren as commanding Dean Hardscrabble, Nathan Fillion as swaggering Johnny Worthington and Joel Murray as supportive Don Carlton, round up an eclectic group of well-chosen, terrific actors.
8. Clever cameos Whereas Randall “Randy” Boggs, the slithery villain from the first film, returns in a supporting role, he is not the only familiar monster to come back to the screen. So as not to spoil the movie, these two recognizable monsters – one in voice and silhouette form, and the other very visibly – steal the show. Perhaps one of the biggest laughs from my screening emerged when the former monster appeared.
9. Fun monster elements Look all around you and a monster-like detail can be found in each frame. The statues at the entrance gates resemble creepy creatures. The fraternities possess apropos names (Oozma Kappa, Roar Omega Roar, etc.) and their college attire, many with multiple sleeves and holes to accommodate extra arms and legs, are fitting.
10. Coolest cast of characters Pixar developed hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, of individuals with unique personalities for this prequel. I would imagine there are more here than in the first movie. The studio’s fresh characters designs and associated traits speak to its commitment to ensuring every monster has a role. During your next viewing, pay attention to the monsters in the background. They’re just as neat and amusing as the ones with speaking roles.
11. Exceeds expectations in its necessity Many have reasoned there was no point to expanding a franchise that already felt complete. Luckily Pixar went in the prequel route – as a sequel would have likely alienated everyone who loved the ending – and found a way to make Monsters new again. The academic setting, taking place before the leads’ employment at Monsters, Inc., serves as an ideal venue to see their emotional growth. Sure, University may not have been a necessary movie, or even one people were desiring to watch, but we sure are happy to see more of Sulley and Mike in a complete film.
12. Situational resonance For any college-aged viewer like myself, I saw some parallels between my experience and the ones featured in the monster world. Life changes course unexpectedly, not all aspirations come to realization, and other students astonish you at times. But that need not be negative. In its humorous and creative arrangement, Monsters proves both relevant and insightful. What a gift.
13. Justifies multiple viewings Few movies provide individuals with a reason to watch them again – and weeks after the initial instance, no less – but Monsters is an exception. You will want to go back to catch the one-liners, visual gags and feel all warm inside. Yes, the monsters are comforting, so props to the studio for lending that appeal.
What were your favorite elements of Monsters University, and what do you think of my points? Share your thoughts!
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of the column, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.