It is difficult to watch Monsters University without thinking of Monster Inc. Much of the dramatic tension of this new prequel is solved by the action of the original film, so there is a lack of urgency to all that happens in Monsters University. That’s almost always the problem with prequels – the audience knows how it all eventually works out.
I consider “how it all eventually works out” in Monsters Inc. to be the most complete and beautiful ending Pixar has ever crafted (allowing that the “end” of Wall-E isn’t an ending but a new beginning). Mike gains self- and communal respect, Sully finds purpose beyond achievement, and the entire monsters+human world moves into a time of sustainable, ever increasing happiness.
Monsters University gives those resolutions even more resonance. The film enlarges the scope of the personal turmoil that plagued our protagonists and the societal turmoil that plagued the story’s world. However, because those resolutions don’t come until the end of the first film, this new movie feels a little flat. It needs its narrative successor (though it’s still a lot of fun).
Monsters University mainly concerns Mike and his desire to be a scarer, something we know he’s not cut out for, so the movie is chiefly about Mike learning to be ok with his place in the world. That is a bittersweet pill to swallow for audiences given to telling each other that we can be anything we want if we just work hard enough. We all know that’s not true, but we still repeat it lest we limit anyone’s ambition in life.
Maybe that’s ok. I can think of many people who have accomplished amazing things even though their early life situations didn’t seem to suggest they could. Perhaps limits are best learned through experience rather than being imposed by society. That’s precisely what happens to Mike in this movie. He learns his limits, and he begins to learn to be content within them.
There is a curious interplay between what we dream of becoming and our destinies. Only from the perspective of eternity will it all make sense. Then it will all seem much more peaceful than it seems in the moment. Our task now is to trust the faithfulness of the author of our lives.
God has the kind of perspective that we have on Monsters University and Monsters Inc. God is where all this eventually works out, and God knows the good that is at the end. I believe God is guiding us toward that resolution, and I believe it will be more complete and beautiful than we can yet imagine.