Monsters University

I have always had a fascination with stories. As I child I would read constantly, and as I grew older I became an avid viewer of movies, both of which rely on a good story despite being two different mediums. I think this fascination may be at the heart of why I aim to get as much out of a film as I can, be it about the characters or the production process. When it comes to the subject of character, sequels can be an excellent method of development, and the same can be said of prequels. By 2013, PIXAR Studios had provided us with 3 sequels, with 2 for Toy Story and 1 for Cars, on top of their 10 original projects, but there wasn’t a prequel to be seen. Their first, and to date only, prequel would be a spin-off of the highly popular 2001 film Monsters Inc entitled Monsters University, or Monsters Uni for short. There had been, and continue to be, many calls for a direct sequel to Monsters Inc so a prequel was certainly an unexpected move, but it may have been, at least in my opinion, the better choice.

We follow the previous film’s protagonists Mike Wasowski and James “Sully” Sullivan through university as they compete in the Scare Games and find a lifelong friendship along the way. Perhaps the greatest hurdle of any prequel is that it must inevitably end in a way that directs us into the original film. Because this precedes Monsters Inc, we know that Mike and Sully will become lifelong roommates working for the titular company, so we know that their rivalry in Monsters Uni will be short-lived. It just so happens that I am a firm believer that the journey is equally important, if not more so, than the final destination, and this is quite the journey. Mike is a bit of a loner and Sully is a local celebrity, being the son of a scarer, so putting them both in the Scare Programme provides enough friction to carry the entire film. But an incident leads to them both being expelled from the programme, and from here they join a lackluster group of monsters in the Oozma Kampa fraternity so that they can win the Scare Games and be re-instated, so the stakes are high. All PIXAR films have an overarching lesson to them and there is no attempt to hide that Monsters Uni is all about teamwork, in relation to each other as well as the fraternity. Each of the monsters in Oozma Kampa brings something different to the table, but, like Mike, they have been outcast for not being scary enough. Unlike Mike, they aren’t in in for personal gain and are just happy to finally be included, which makes rooting for them easy. They are hard not to care about.

There are only a handful of main characters, but since this is set on a college campus, the amount of background characters is innumerable. As I have made my way through the PIXAR library, I have noticed certain improvements due to the progress of time and of technology. We are now a long way from the clone children of Toy Story, with each background character being 100% unique. It had been this way for quite some time, in fact the main selling point of Cars 2 seemed to be how many unique, merchandise-able characters were in it, but Monsters Uni is where that progress really stands out to me. There are monsters with slime, scales, fur, shells, multiple heads and backpacks all in one frame which is a level of skill and computer processing power that I find it hard to comprehend, but here it is nonetheless. There is an in-universe trading card game which features different scarers from across the ages and I am gutted that they didn’t make it into a genuine set, because it would have been an astounding demonstration of the artwork present in this film. It also would have likely raked in more cash for Disney, so I feel like they may have dropped the ball on that one. A special shout-out goes to the people who designed and rendered the buildings because I can only imagine that real-life buildings are difficult enough. Building this reality in which the characters exist is truly commendable.

As always, the score is magnificent. While some sequels and prequels might rely on previously established musical motifs, Monsters Uni has a almost wholly original score. I say almost because a couple of those old motifs do still manage to sneak in there, most noticeably in the track Field Trip, but it is a rarity. Once again we are being treated to the compositions of Randy Newman in what is his 7th collaboration with PIXAR after the Toy Story trilogy, A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc, and Cars. His work is very distinct and if you dwell on that for too long, it can become rather distracting, but I still rather enjoy his music. The score here can be light and airy but also intense and urgent, perhaps more so than in any of his previous films, but I wouldn’t have been upset if they had brought in somebody else. That’s the thing about change- it can be for the better. Nobody expecting a prequel for Monsters Inc because they were, and some still are, more interested in a direct sequel, but this is what we got. It doesn’t rely on the original film in any aspect and introduces us to new, likeable characters and interesting settings. For those who have watched Monsters Inc there are one or two subtle nods and expectation subversions but nothing that are important to the story.

The way I see it, Monsters University is further background for a story that I already love. It has the added benefit of being a well-written and, at times, emotional piece. If you are of the opinion that all sequels, prequels and spin-offs are empty cash-grabs then I implore you to watch this film and reconsider.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer


40 minutes. That’s how long it takes for Wall-E to introduce us to any people. 40 whole minutes. The film is only an hour and a half long, yet it waits until nearly halfway into its runtime before properly diving into the plot. For comparison, you could watch an entire episode of Doctor Who in that amount of time. The most impressive aspect of all that is that not a second of it is wasted, and once the plot does finally get going, it is thoroughly enjoyable and emotional.

We follow Wall-E, a waste disposal robot, as he leaves a long-since abandoned Earth in pursuit of his new love EVE; a sleek robot seeking signs that humanity can return home from the stars. It’s a fairly simple plot- an environmental message disguised as a love story between two robots. Wall-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter: Earth class) has been alone, for centuries, and developed an inquisitive personality. All he really wants is someone to share his wonder and excitement with and it finally arrives with EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator). She has come to Earth in search of organic life to certify that the planet has become habitable in the 705 years that humanity has spent on their space cruise-liners. Upon finding a solitary sapling, she initiates low power mode, during which time Wall-E keeps her safe from the harsh environment. He has no knowledge of what has happened to her but continues to protect her in a demonstration of pure love and kindness. With a vocabulary of only several words between them, they must rely on these words and actions to show how much they care, providing us with some of the most adorable chemistry I’ve ever witnessed. I genuinely could have spent the entire hour and a half just being on Earth with these two but, alas, EVE is retrieved by a spaceship and returned to the human colony with her new friend stowing away. As Wall-E clings to the ships outside, we get to experience the vast beauty of space through his eyes. Again, I could have spent much longer here, just soaking in the infinite majesty of the universe.

So here we are, half way through the movie and the real meat of the plot can begin. In the 705 years since leaving Earth, the subsequent generations of human have grown obese, focused on nothing but the holo-screens in front of them. Their ship (The Axiom), everything on it and, indeed, everything on Earth, was manufactured and owned by the company BNL (Buy ‘N’ Large) whose sole aim seems to have been making life as easy as possible. Having ruined the planet with their consistent need for consumerism, humans have now in effect ruined themselves the exact same way. They were so focused on themselves that they forgot to take care of the people around them and their home. If only they hadn’t allowed one single company to own absolutely everything.

With the plant suddenly missing, EVE presumes that Wall-E has taken it, which is a bit harsh, and demands that he return to Earth immediately. It is here, with half an hour to go, that we learn the shocking truth about the Axioms auto-pilot Otto. He is the one attempting to destroy any evidence of the plant, hiding it from the Captain himself, in an attempt to stop humanity from ever returning home. You may be getting some 2001: A Space Odessy vibes but, this time, Otto is simply following protocol. He long ago recieved a message from the prsident of BNL (and subsequently Earth) that the planet was a lost cause and that the safest thing for humanity to do was live amongst the stars. As a result, Wall-E doesn’t have a villain per se. The true fight, so we’re shown, is between us and capitalism.

With a wonderful story like this, it only makes sense that the score and sound design should match, and it proves to be spectacular. Whether it be the low hum of EVE hovering or the sound of rocks as they fall through Wall-Es caterpillar tracks, these sounds feel real. Indeed, the film makes no secret that everything here could actually come to pass, down to the use of live action footage. the blend of computer animation and live action, at least in a computer animated film, is rare. Which is a shame, because it leads to a unique viewing experience. It adds to the reality of the film’s message- that this future is all too tangible. On top of that is the somewhat ethereal score which, whilst adding a sense of whimsy, adds a sense of dread. It’s no wonder that Wall-E won the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture and no surprise that it is remembered so fondly. If only people would remember its message too.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer