Review: “Monsters University” packs silly and scary surprises into Pixar prequel with stunningly realistic animation and fun story

in Disney, Movies, Pixar, Reviews


Mike and Sulley are back, but not as you remember them. Taking a leap back in time, “Monsters University” explores how these best buddies became friends over the course of their college careers in attempts to master the elite scaring curriculum. But this movie doesn’t follow all the tired old cliches of college films, instead bringing “Monsters Inc” fans a chance to get to know the stories behind their favorite two characters.

“Monsters University” at first follows Mike Wazowski, establishing why the Monsters, Inc. scarers are so highly revered across Monstropolous. Through a few familiar settings, viewers follow along with Mike, being introduced to the monster world again, but as if for the first time. Through a mix of humor and suspenseful adventure, Mike is set on his path to try to become a scarer at the film’s namesake Monsters University, one of the top training schools for the profession.

Anyone who has seen the trailers for “Monsters University” may think its story is obvious, but previews have only revealed – at most – a third of the plot. Once past the first act (which itself has surprises), the remaining hour sets Mike, Sulley, and a cast of familiar and new characters on a wild adventure across the college campus and beyond. It’s a film that impressively keeps viewers’ attention through humor and cleverly themed visuals, but also makes sure each of its many characters is well developed, serving specific roles that aren’t always predictable.

Across a variety of fraternities and sororities, “Monsters University” introduces plenty of new hilarious characters. There are the stuck-up monsters from ROR, the goths from HSS, the outcasts from OK, and – my favorite – the sisters with a secret from PNK, among many more. They all play key roles in the events that take place over the majority of the movie.

Pixar has come a long way since 2001’s “Monsters Inc,” with more than a decade of animation technology advancements really showing through in the new film. As “Monsters University” makes its way into its third and most surprising act, a few twists are thrown in creating some of the movie’s most memorable moments in comedy (with a touch of horror), all achieved through impressively detailed and realistic animation and visual effects.

Speaking of which, “Monsters University” is preceded by the newest Pixar short, “The Blue Umbrella” which is easily their most visually stunning short to date. Its opening shots arguably look like live action with incredibly photorealistic shading, lighting, textures, and animation persisting throughout. Its story is not exactly unique or original, nearly mirroring that of Disney’s “Paperman,” but it’s still an impressive piece of animation that will charm filmgoers.

Ultimately “Monsters University” is a fulfilling prequel to a beloved Pixar classic and for many will prove to be a far more likable film than Pixar’s previous movie “Brave.” Though from the beginning we all know where this story ends, the path Mike and Sulley take to reach their highly sought-after employment on the Monsters Inc. scare floor is the unknown that this film unfolds, taking viewers on an adventure, laughing all the way through.

And to 3D or not 3D? “The Blue Umbrella” and select scenes of “Monsters University” take full advantage of the 3D format, but the majority of the main movie does not.

“Monsters University” screams into theaters on June 21, 2013.


  1. Frostysnowman

    Can’t wait to see this!

  2. Sarah

    I’m excited to see this, but I can’t help but be disappointed that once again, PIXAR offers up another movie without a female lead, at least from what I can tell. Brave excited me, because, as a woman, we need more representation in media, but because it was a mother-daughter story, it was criticized as being “unrelatable” by male reviewers, though the father-son story of Finding Nemo was not.

    Although PIXAR makes wonderful movies, the fact is that very few of them pass the Bechdal Test, designed to test female representation in media. Passing or not passing is not a measurement of misogyny, but it is for female presence.

    1. Are there two or more (named) women?
    2. Who have a conversation?
    3. About something other than a man?

    Thirteen movies have been released by PIXAR so far (not counting Monsters U). Out of this number, only five (Bug’s Life, The Incredibles, Cars, Toy Story 3, and Brave) pass.

    It’s pretty ridiculous, considering that women make up about 51% of the world. And that fact that in the past, most of the people who worked at PIXAR were men does not count as an excuse.

    I love the Princess movies, very, very much, but when I adopt my little girl, I want her to have more opportunities for her to see women and girls in media. I want her to have more role models to look up to.

    1. Ricky Brigante

      Don’t forget Toy Story 2. :)

      1. Sarah

        Not really. The Barbies barely talk to each other, and a little girl picks up Woody and tells her mom she wants him. Which is still, technically about a male character. Though, it has been a while since I’ve seen it. Maybe you’re remembering another part?

        1. Ricky Brigante

          I think you’re forgetting all about Jessie, one of Toy Story 2’s main characters, also responsible for a heart warming song.

          1. Sarah

            Right, and it’s wonderful! And I’m glad we have such a wonderful character, but it isn’t sung to another female, if I’m remembering correctly. It’s about her and Emily, but it isn’t a conversation between her and Emily.

            The conversation aspect i important because in media, it’s actually rare that we get two female characters who are friends. Take the Pirates movies, for example. If the writers wanted to, they could have created friendships between Elizabeth and Annamaria or Elizabeth and Tia Dalma, or Angelica and Serena, but none of those ever happened. Heck, Annamaria wasn’t even in any of the other movies!

            We barely any princess who have female friends. Ariel has her sister, and we see some female mice in Cinderella. The only exceptions are Pocahontas and Nakoma and Tiana and Charlotte. Even the animal sidekicks are always male. Djali, Esmeralda’s goat, was even female in the book, but changed to male for the movie, completely unnecessarily.

          2. EricJ

            And Ellie Fredericksen in Up, who -taught- Carl how to be adventurous.

          3. Sarah

            Right. But Ellie barely spoke. I’m not saying that there aren’t female characters, or that they’re horrible character. I’m staing that in the world of PIXAR, not only do the men outnumber the women, but they apparently have no friends as well. Think about how many male buddy comedies PIXAR has made. What’s stopping them from making one about two female friends? How come we can have three Toy Story, two Monsters, and two Cars movies but none about two female friends?

  3. EricJ

    Uh, so when exactly did Brave have Merida and her mother talking about something besides marriage? 😉

    1. Sarah

      Elinor teaches her how to rule the kingdom, she helps her about the storm, Merida tells her mom about the berries and makes breakfast (though Elinor is a bear, they clearly have a conversation)

  4. Sarah

    Merida and the Witch also talk about Elinor, and the woodcarver’s convention. It’s also one of the few children-appropriate movies that revolves a mother-daughter relationship where the mom isn’t villainized (Tangled, Coraline, Snow White, etc)

    1. EricJ

      Uh, just so you know, we ARE talking about Monsters, here. Monsters.
      Not reviving the Brave debate. Or is it that much of an issue with you, that Pixar must be pursued for life for not living up to their one “shining example”?
      Pixar’s strength is that they don’t take sides. They’ve done maybe three films with homo sapiens in them at -all-, which keeps things universal. And if you’re upset that Sally was the only female Car in Radiator Springs (she wasn’t, btw), I have to admit, you’ve got one strange perspective when it comes to looking at cars or characters.

      Please. Give. It. A. REST, Hippolyta.

      1. Sarah

        No, Im glad we had multiple female Cars! And I’m not even saying that Brave is a shining example! All I’m saying is that I wish we had more female representation from this studio. They make wonderful female characters, and I’m just disappointed that they don’t feature them more.

        It’s simply the way that media is. And I won’t give it a rest because it’s something that needs to change. We need more role models for you girls, beyond just the warrior or princess stereotypes. When The Incredibles came out, my sister and I latched onto Edna Mode. A universally fantastic character. Boo. Jessie. Dory. Ellie. Eve. Atta. Merida. Roz. Celia. They do women wonderfully!

        And we have Finding Dory coming out soon, which is fantastic! Starring a female lead, from what I can tell, and hopefully featuring Peach, Pearl, and Deb from the first movie.

        So my question is, why won’t PIXAR put their wonderful female characters into the limelight more? My guess is that it’s what they’re used to. Think about how many OSCAR Best Picture Candidates in the past year had female leads. Think about the fact that Princess and the Frog did so poorly at the box office, that they had to market Flynn Rider as much as they did Rapinzel, if not more?

        The fact is that movies with male leads allegedly sell better than those with female leads. Why? Because society tells us that it’s ok for a female audience goer to identify with a male character, but it’s not ok that a male audience goer identify with a female character. With this mindset, we are teaching boys in our country that identifying with or being a girl is shameful.

        Of course, there are the recent exceptions. Tim Burron’s Alice in Wonderland. The Hunger Games. But these movies are generally intended for Tweens and teenagers. Early childhood are the most formative years. Representation matters.

        We don’t need media to tell us that we’re silent, that we’re unnecessary. That we have no friends. That other women should be our enemies. That our narratives should revolve around men.

        The fact is that with movies that do not pass that Bechdal test, and end with the hero winning the girl (something PIXAR avoids for the most part), we are teaching our young boys that their reward for defeating the villain is a woman who has no friends and doesn’t talk.

        1. Stacy

          I’m a girl who generally finds male characters more relatable than their female counterparts and sometimes the MORE a movie or series strives to include those female empowerment concepts, the more it turns me off. Why do you want the Finding Dory movie to feature Peach, Pearl, and Deb? The Tank Gang never interacts with Dory, they were Nemo’s friends. While it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect old characters to cameo, it seems weird that they would play a prominent role based on the sole criteria of “they are all girls.” I guess because Gil, Nigel, Crash, Squirt etc. were all dudes it doesn’t matter whether they get to be in a movie with Dory again? :/ I’d rather they created new characters to interact with Dory, who might have a meaningful scene with her, then shoe-horn old favorites simply because they share a gender with her.
          I also think Tim Burton is great as a director and has wonderful ideas for scenery and other design elements. But while Alice In Wonderland passes that Bechdel Test, it does so by a) making the Queen repulsive (both personality and appearance), b) making Alice older and more mature so she can wield a sword and rescue the Mad Hatter, even if it means losing alot of her whimsical nature, c) making Alice’s sister somewhat of a stereotypical girly girl only interested in parties and appearances. Alice does not have any good relationships with ANY of the other female characters unless you count the mouse who barely appears and is little more than comic relief.
          I honestly get tired of all the ‘Brave is great for showcasing a mother-daughter story’ talk. It was not a very good mother-daughter story to me. They argue all the time, Merida is willing to poison her mom and say hateful things like I’d rather die than be like you, and they only bond because of some supernatural transformation sequence, which I felt cheapened the whole ‘getting to know the real you’ aspect of the plot. It also features some kind of bizarra character design choices IMO. It bugs the crud out of me that Elinor is dark-haired yet all her children are adorable redheaded kids when genetically the brunette hair gene is stronger so they should all or nearly all be dark-haired! Redheads are almost always characterized as fiery, temperamental, heroic, smart but awkward and generally the most important or ‘good’ character in their series. (Think Eliza Thornberry, Blossom of the Powerpuffs, Gosalyn Mallard, Ariel the mermaid, Jessie the cowgirl, etc.) How often would you have a blonde or brunette spunky, rebellious teen? Notice also that Brave goes out of its way to make all the men totally ugly, ignorant, and unsympathetic. I’m sure people still would have been on board with Merida not wanting to get married to a stranger without making all the suitors total d-bags. I also feel like the mute triplet brothers were so devoid of personality, they might as well not have been in the script. (But then again, I never liked Donald’s nephews much either, or the triplet bimbos from Beauty And The Beast because they are groups of Single Minded Trios.)
          I’m sorry this post didn’t discuss Monsters University more but the original review didn’t give away much in the way of the plot, barely even naming the main characters, so I can’t comment on how good or bad the new movie was.

          1. EricJ

            Well, we CAN’T discuss it yet, Ricky’s the only one who’s seen it yet! 😉
            What we have are (ahem, points), those who think they have to show up to avenge Brave every time the P-word gets mentioned every time after 2012. And it’s…getting pretty old, for your very reasons about the movie outlined above. (So is symbolic Joan-of-Alice praise, now that public opinion has pretty well dismissed the rest of the movie, but we’ll let that go.)

            I know I’ve got my free ticket from that Monsters Inc 3D Blu-ray I just picked up, and I know it’s a buddy-movie about Billy Crystal and John Goodman. I’m not going to start going on crusades about why Celia and Roz weren’t more proactively fleshed-out characters.

    2. Stacy

      Tangled and Snow White don’t feature the biological mother, though. And Coraline is a bit of a Mind Screw that mostly takes place from Coraline’s POV that her mother is ignoring her (it glosses over the fact that Coraline’s real mom was in a car accident recently and the pain of recuperation combined with the move to a new home has left her too tired to play with Coraline. Real Mom still buys Coraline the clothes she wants in the end, and lets her have a party. Other Mother is some sort of Eldritch Abomination influenced by Coraline’s emotions. She’s more of a Daddy’s Girl, so Other Father is the gentler, hen-pecked husband who doesn’t really want to hurt her and Other Mother is a smothering control freak.) While I do agree that there are alot of evil stepmoms or maternal figures in cartoons (Particularly those based off of fairy tales) the real moms generally fare better and end up in a happy, loving relationship with the child (almost always a daughter). Unless the Mom is dead to begin with (Little Mermaid, Cinderella, etc.) or marginalized (Sarabi from Lion King) in which case you might have to settle for an older sister (Nani from Lilo and Stitch) or cool female friend (the pirate captain in Treasure Planet or Milo’s spunky crewmates in Atlantis.)
      Yes there’s room for improvement in the film and animation industry when it comes to portraying parents of either gender. How often are the dads fat, bumbling, and ineffectual (both fathers in A Goofy Movie, King Fergus in Brave, Maurice in Beauty And The Beast) or grouchy and non understanding (Neptune and Marlin initially) or simply not a presence in their offspring’s life (Zeus in Hercules, the dad who abandoned Jim in Treasure Planet). Once again the best Dads who are universally revered are the dead ones (Mufasa in Lion King, Tiana’s father in Princess And The Frog.) It’s not new and it’s NOT just the female characters who get shafted.

  5. Sarah

    A TED Talk explaining more about this.

  6. KIki

    I appreciate the conversation above about the gender roles in movies (I’m being generic). HOWEVER, this particular comment section, I thought, was supposed to be about Monsters University? This amazing movie. There are several blogs and message boards for other topics. :)

    Monsters University is a great movie. I really enjoyed it. As Ricky mentioned, the photo realism is phenomenal! I highly recommend this movie!

  7. Matthew

    I just saw this last night and wow what a great prequel I especially liked how they tied in the doors and randal and monsters inc

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