Prequels regardless of what series they belong to always run the risk messing up a franchise timeline, creating plot holes, and possibly lessening the film that came before it. In the case of Monster University it wants to fill a gap that wasn’t weak in its predecessor. It could have taken the route set out for it to be an easy cash grabbed, but instead rejects that label aiming high as its predecessor creating a world filled with lovable characters.
Monster University is about the relationship between Mike and Sulley during their days at Monsters University. Narratively predictable not because the outcome is already set in stone, but because a story like this has already been told plenty of times. Carrying over a speculatively evil headmaster, oddball underdog heroes going up against the college champions in a competition, flunking classes, threat of expulsions, fitting into the crowd, and several overused situational jokes. At it worst you will know where the story is heading with bad jokes thrown in, however overcoming those issues is strong writing. Both Mike and Sulley arcs have a familiar starting point that stronger resonate the more it develops moving forward. Its success lies in the duo relationship bringing to challenge the same struggles and differential life philosophy they came to challenge. Going left field with its cliches with truthful messages; one of them being failing to reach your dreams and how that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A philosophy often ignored in a genre where success is always guaranteed for being positive. Making these messages effective are it cast of characters. Vibrant as they might be each go through their own arcs becoming fleshed out as our protagonists. Wanting to spend time attaching to these characters for who they are instead of by nature. An attachment that becomes more powerful in the final act which is easily the best act of the film. Seeing our characters growth in the final act makes a great film in a strong one that’s dramatically powerful. Showing the true strength of the writing and its characters friendship. Just like its characters, expectations are thrown at the plot refusing those expectations to become better than anyone expected it to be.
Animation is top notch. Sporting more than a eye pleasing color palette designs of monsters are varied. These monsters might share anatomy similar to a human offer a range of different appearances being insect like while other being straight up bizarre. Some having fur, some having scales, some not having legs, and whatever pops into the animators mind. It oozes in creativity for it universe inhabitants, though the environments are nothing spectacular. Environments don’t have any new spin to them in any form going against the film theme of defeating expectations. Voice acting is all stellar with the standout being the strong chemistry between Billy Crystal and John Goodman. Delivering on the comedy, drama, and enhancing the film with their presence. Helen Mirren is strict and overpowering. Steve Buscemi has his wonderfully evil voice that’s memorable even in a film that necessarily has no villains. The film score while not noteworthy does is job adequately whether it be mellow for a touching moment or upbeat for a fun sequence.
Monster University follows a straightforward route taking different directions to reach the same destination with different outcomes. Going into Monster University you know where the journey is headed and you know what the destination is, but what matter most is who you are taking it with. In this case the characters you take the journey with make every minute count.