Monsters University and the Problem with Prequels

I will be the first to admit: I’m not a great writer. I may have the occasional good idea but the annals of history won’t be filled with my works. I’ve been told that my writing is too flowery and structured, not leaving much to the reader’s imagination. This is something I hope to work on; I have the time and opportunity to improve. Pixar, on the other hand, has no excuse to be as formulaic and stock as they’ve shown themselves to be in their latest film, Monsters University.

As a writer, I ultimately strive to create new experiences. This is why I try to avoid writing prequels. The inherent problem with a prequel is that the audience knows where the protagonist will end up by the film’s conclusion; there is already a lessened emotional investment in the story. But we watch these types of movies anyways because the characters are enjoyable…right? This may be the case when the characters are done right. In the case of Monsters University, everything was too much like a stencil for my tastes: it’s the same type of movie we’ve already seen.

To the film’s credit, there are a couple concepts which Pixar uses throughout the film that give a glimmer of originality and make the film more fun, but these moments are few and far between. The climax of the film was fairly original and the conflict of the film is less about a protagonist versus an antagonist, but more about the protagonist overcoming himself. Not to mention, the animation is up to Pixar’s usual standards of beauty. Every character fit an archetype: the up-and-comer wanting to prove himself (Mike), the hot-shot who needs to learn that he isn’t as great as he’s told he is (Sully), the evil dean wanting to be correct (Hardscrabble), the snobby and popular fraternity (Roar Omega Roar), and the fraternity of losers who eventually rise to the top (Oozma Kappa). Fitting into an archetype is fine; the problem is never deviating from that archetype. It never really feels as if these archetypes, in the film, aim to change and be something new and original. Everything remains far too static, while the occasional arcs and changes can sometimes feel a little forced and shoe-horned in to help progress the story to the original film.

The short animation played just before the movie, entitled The Blue Umbrella, is a perfect parallel to the experience of Monsters University: well-animated but we’ve already seen other things like it in the past that were executed a lot better.