Monsters University

Although their track record may not be entirely spotless, I challenge you to show me a studio that consistently creates better films than Pixar. Monsters Inc. remains a great film in their history. It’s a perfect example of their skills in world building, storytelling, and creativity. That said, I didn't want this sequel. In fact, I don't want any Pixar sequels. 

I know, I know, that's heresy... but hear me out.  Every time we get a Pixar sequel, we miss the chance to be introduced to something new (like that movie that you want a sequel to). Pixar has such a talent for creating new worlds and stories that I often think that sequels cheats us out of the next daring thing they could try. That said, I am encouraged by the news that Pixar is looking to focus on original films, while still making some sequels. It sounds like everybody will get more of what they love. An original film a year, with occasional sequels.

This may be interesting, but let’s drop the Pixar sequel debate and focus on the film in front of us now. I brought it up because after all of the studio's success, it’s important to me that Pixar continues to create some of the best films today. It's important that Pixar continues to make unconventional choices and show us something new. Who else but Pixar will create a movie for wide audiences with a grieving old man as the main character, or without dialog for the first 30 minutes, or find the character in the inanimate objects in our lives? That's what I looked for in Monsters University, unconventional choices. I like the characters and the world they created, but to keep my interest it needed to expand upon them in unconventional and interesting ways.

 

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Warning: This is a post-viewing discussion of Monsters University. If you haven't seen it yet, turn back now.

Do I love the main plot of Monsters University? No. Personally, I found the Scare Games weren't that interesting. I was entertained, but we all knew that Mike and Sully were going to have to work together. What I did love were the ways that we explored the characters of Mike and Sully.

Looking back on it, it's obvious. However, it's hard to imagine following up a successful film by focusing on the sidekick and making the original hero to be an unlikable rival. OK, maybe "unlikable" is a bit much, but anyone who didn't know James P. Sullivan at the beginning on Monsters University would have taken time to warm up to him.

I would imagine that Mike and Sully from the first movie could look back on their past like many of us do. Their basic character is there, but there is a lot of growth that needs to take place (which does not come easily). We may not all be able to identify with Sully’s carefree attitude as a natural scarer, but I bet most of us understood his fear in dealing with the possible failure and disappointment of not living up to family expectations.

Where Monsters University really amazed me was Mike's ultimate realization that he was not, and could not become a scarer, as well as the eventual resolution of the problem. In the U.S. and today's society, we are taught that we can do anything if we work hard enough at it. If we really want to, we can be an athlete, an astronaut, or even President of the United States. I commend Pixar for confronting the issue that we all aren't born to be scarers. Some of us are born with natural talents that make scaring easier than the rest. However, hard work will get you far. In fact, sometimes people with the most talent and goodwill headed their way can be lazy and take their advantage for granted.

Make no mistake, I want people to believe that they can accomplish great things when they set their mind to it, but I also want the conversation to be more advanced than succeeding on one single path. That's what I love about the ending. Watching Mike and Sully work their way up from the mail room was a great way to reinforce the power of hard work and dedication. Mike may never become a scarer, but he seemingly ushers in a new era where the scarers use assistants to be even better. We also know that Mike ultimately becomes more successful than he ever could have imagined when he and Sully discover the power of laughter. That wasn't Mike’s dream, but he still ended up successful and happy (perhaps more than he ever thought possible).

In the age of everyone getting a trophy, we need stories like Monsters University to remind us that sometimes things just don't work out. We need to be reminded that Rudy is the exception, and maybe its OK to stop trying to follow one path and find another way to the destination. We need to be reminded that sometimes our dreams may not be within reach, but we don't have to have only one dream. We can find other ways to be connected to what we love, and dedication can still be the best way to work your way to the top.