Face-Off: Monsters Inc. vs. Monsters University

Last Updated on August 3, 2021

In the previous Face-Off, Owen Wilson trumped fellow Wedding Crasher Vince Vaughn and you, the readers, mostly agreed that he belonged at the head table.

With Pixar yet again dominating the box office, this week’s Face-Off pits the studio’s fourth feature, 2001’s MONSTERS INC., and their fourteenth, this summer’s MONSTERS UNIVERSITY.

Since their 1995 feature film debut, Pixar has released three sequels, two of which (TOY STORY 2 and 3) served to enhance the characters and stories, while the other (CARS 2) apparently only existed to boost merchandise sales and promote a new Disney attraction.

So, how does their very first prequel stand up to the original?

Characters/Voice Cast
Aside from Mike and Sully, we were treated to a variety of colorful characters, including Boo, Randall, Celia Mae, Henry J. Waternoose III, and Roz, all of whom play key roles in the story and are voiced by talents such as John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi, Jennifer Tilly, James Coburn, Frank Oz, Bonnie Hunt, and more.
Waternoose III and Roz have only cameos (and Boo, of course, hasn’t been born), but the characters still expand significantly in UNIVERSITY, adding a row of fraternities (Mike and Sully’s Oozma Kappa included), Dean Hardscrabble, Professor Knight, and a number of fellow collegiates. With those new characters come new actors, which include (in addition to the returning cast) Dave Foley, Sean Hayes, Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Charlie Day, and so on. As a bonus, Pixar favorite John Ratzenberger reprises his role as the Abominable Snowman.
The primary antagonist of INC. is Randall, a slimy chameleon-like monster who has it out for Sully and aims to be the all-time scare champion, a title coveted so much that he’s willing to kidnap a toddler and build a torture device to get it. He’s a major heel with no heart or feelings, making it easy for us to root for his selfish, sleazy tail to be tossed into the door-shredder.
In UNIVERSITY, Randall has been demoted to only a minor heel, as he doesn’t develop a disdain for Sully until his own last lines. Instead, Mike and Sully are up against both the ROR fraternity, who are their main competitors in the Scare Games, and the dragon-like headmistress, who threatens to boot the duo out of Monsters University if they don’t place first. But quantity doesn’t necessarily equal quality, and really, ROR is immediately dismissed as unthreatening dumb jocks. And so we rule in favor of post-college Randall, who is more sinister than ROR and the dean combined.
Kids’ Enjoyment
Children will love anything Pixar puts out—it’s why they’ve had 14 consecutive number one opening weekends. But they get a kick out of things they can connect to as well, no matter how young they are, which is part of the reason Boo (someone their age or close to it) is so popular with the little ones. They also need something to stimulate their minds and keep them from falling asleep in their popcorn. The climax of INC. is a thrilling chase involving Sully, Mike, Randall, and Boo, where the monsters and human race through the factory in search of one particular door out of hundreds of thousands.
Although Mike and Sully have proven to be Pixar icons, there are no characters close to the target audience’s age and the story is set in an environment that is completely alien to them: a university campus. What’s more fun for a kid to spend 90+ minutes in: a building with endless rooms and corridors (as seen in INC.), or school? UNIVERSITY’s plot leads up to the Scare Games, a series of tests that culminates in a contest to see which team can generate the biggest scares. That’s it—just a compilation of ten monsters yelling “Boo!” at a dummy in a bed.
Pixar References
Pixar has a tendency to tease their next feature, no matter how subtly. In INC., Boo offers Sully one of her beloved toys: a clownfish that would come to be known as Nemo. In terms of trademarks and cameos, the Pizza Planet truck can be seen parked next to a trailer. Additionally, INC. features the Pixar ball, Jessie and Roly Poly Clown from TOY STORY and the aforementioned trailer from A BUG’S LIFE.
The tease here comes in the form of dinosaur toys on the floor of the Scare Simulator, a nod to next year’s THE GOOD DINOSAUR. Meanwhile, the Pizza Planet truck is located outside of the JOX frat house, no doubt making serious bank from drunken monster bros. As for cameos, UNIVERSITY appears to only feature the Pixar ball and a handful of CARS vehicles. Considering that the prequel is still in theaters, there are certainly many more easter eggs that have yet to be found. In fairness, this one’s a tie.
Although MONSTERS UNIVERSITY has proved a success with both critics (it holds a 77% on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences (it’s on pace to out-gross its predecessor), the edge goes to 2001’s MONSTERS INC. While UNIVERSITY does get the studio back on track after two duds (CARS 2 and BRAVE) and features a tremendously talented voice cast, it lacks the overall enjoyment and freshness of the original and substitutes one of the studio’s slimiest villains for fratboys and a dragon.

If you have suggestions for an upcoming Face-Off column, shoot me an e-mail at [email protected]!

Which of these Pixar films do you prefer?


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