Monster University (2013)

Rated G. Our ratings: V -2; L -0; S/N -1. Running time: 1 hour 44 min.

Two are better than one, because they have a good
reward for their toil.
Ecclesiastes 4.9

Some friends play at friendship but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin.
Proverbs 18.24

Quite a line up of characters!

2013 Disney-Pixar

Note The last paragraph might contain a spoiler.

Pixar’s prequel to its 2001 Monsters, Inc. shows how Mike Wazowski and James “Sulley” P. Sullivan started out as enemies before forming their staunch friendship. Directed by Dan Scanlon and scripted by Daniel Gerson and Robert L. Baird, the film’s campus scenes might remind you of the Hogwarts campus in the Harry Potter series, and the campus Scare Games in which our heroes enroll, has touches of The Hunger Games. And the pint-sized Mike’s dream of becoming a scary monster, which a prologue shows that he entertained at an early age, might even remind art house devotees of the currently- showing tale about a woman dreaming beyond her talent level, Frasnces Ha. Not bad for a so-called children’s film!

When Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal), comes to Monster U with his over-sized ambition to become a scarer, he works hard to succeed in bat-winged Dean Hardscrabble’s (Helen Mirren) Scare program. He is upset by the scorn heaped upon him by the huge purple-spotted James P. “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman). Even more, he resents that the naturally endowed BMC is lazy, basking in the glow of his father and grandfather’s fame as great scare enducers. Little one-eyed Mike works and studies hard but cannot rise to Sulley’s level. When the two bicker they both wind up expelled by the Dean from her Scare program. Their only hope is joining the OK Fraternity (Oosma Kappa) and becoming a member of its team in the University’s Scare Games—and of course, winning the various contests. However, this is the nerdiest, the most looked down upon fraternity on campus. The frat house is actually still the home of one of the members and his mother!

The expectation that OK will not even make the cut to enter the Scare Games is amply fulfilled. Mike, over-confident about being able to lead the team, fights with Sulley who naturally thinks he should be the team leader. Their bickering as they race toward the finish of the first contest causes them to leave behind their other inept team members (one is old enough to be attracted to the fraternity mother). Although both Mike and Sulley finish, they are eliminated because the whole team, not just an individual member or two, has to finish the course ahead of others.

They are given another chance only because another team is disqualified for cheating. How the rivals slowly come to learn to cooperate and value the whole team is fun to watch, reminding me slightly of the same struggle in the high school football film about overcoming racism, Remember the Titans. If I were coaching a children’s team of any kind, I would have them watch and discuss this delightful film for this reason alone.

But there is more than learning to become a team and to overcoming hostility in this film. There are also the quiet scenes of coming to terms that one’s cherished dream will not be realized (hence my earlier reference to Frances Ha). In some touching quiet moments Mike and Sulley arrive at a friendship which offers support during failure as well as success. The ending, which could have left Mike in despair over his failure, is turned into a moral victory when the Dean meets the pair for the last time. This brief scene might lead one to think of the ending of a film about another failure in the eyes of the larger world, but which is symbolic of moral/spiritual victory, Dead Poet’s Society. Thus this is another animated film that only a foolish parent or caregiver would drop off the children to watch alone. It is just too full of meaningful material to leave to the kids.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. What problems or flaws do you see in Mike and Sulley?

2. How does this compare as “an outsider movie” to others of the genre?

3. What do you see as the theme(s)? Compare this to another currently friendship or buddy film, The Heat. Have you had the experience of getting off to a wrong start with a person, only to learn to like them as a friend later on? What happened to cause you to change your opinion?

4. How is Mike’s dream against his very nature? Have you had a dream that was not realistic but which was hard to give up? How did you cope when you realized that it was unrealistic? Sometimes, of course, it does pay to persist despite what others say—there are lots of films, about sports figures or entertainers becoming successful despite what others thought and said. How can we know the difference?

5. What do you think of the ending in which the two pals accepted the new direction in their lives? How was Mike’s persistence, once directed along a wrong path, important in the advancement of the pair? What role might the Dean’s commendation have played in their new life?

6. For use with children: a. What are you afraid of? Why? Are you more afraid when you are alone?

b. Does someone help you when you are afraid? Who, and how?

c. Are there things that used to scare you that don’t now? What, and how did you overcome the fear?

d. Do you think that believing in God help you overcome your fear? With an adult’s help you might look up “fear” in the Bible and see how many times it says, “Do not be afraid…” e. What do you learn about friendship in the movie? How does Mike and Sulley not liking each other at first help you think again about someone you don’t like?

f. How do friends like Mike and Sulley help each other during bad times?

g. At the end does Mike become the big mean scare monster he wanted to be? How might this be a good thing? Is he bothered by his failure? Why? Maybe because he has a friend; and maybe because his new work is better than his dream? If you don’t always get what you want, how can your friends help you deal with your disappointment?