Of Musings and Wonderings

{March 16, 2014}   Monsters University [Film]

imagesCA4GKQIWPixar really know their audience. When they released Toy Story 3, many of the people who were the right age for the first film’s target audience (around my age) were either about to go to University or were there already. A few years later, Pixar gave us Monsters Inc, and with Monsters University, have followed it up – again – with a story that many of the original audience can connect and relate to, as well as embracing new, younger audiences.

Monsters University expands on the universe we saw in the original. It starts with a little monster named Mike, as he goes on a class trip to Monsters Inc. There, they witness how the power of screams is harnessed, and Mike sneaks through a door and into the human world. After the trip, he has only one wish for his life. To become a scarer.

The only problem is that Mike is not scary. But he is determined, and goes off to Monsters University, becoming a Scare Major. He is the stereotypical nerd, using book smarts and knowledge to push himself in his course. There, he meets Sulley, a monster whose family are well-known as scarers. Sulley walks into the class late, acts like he owns the place, and gets by on looks and pure talent. Until a mishap between the two means they are spotted by the dean, who kicks them both off the course.

monstersMike sets about finding a group to enlist in Scare Games, joining a fraternity of very non-scary monsters, the only one he can find. But they are denied entry for being one team member short, and Sulley, seeing his chance, joins up with them. Of course, there are disagreements and arguments and eventually, they all come to accept one another and progress through the games, with a mixture of Sulley’s natural talent and Mike’s book smarts.

Okay, so the nerd and jock joining together to do well is not a new story. But this is Pixar we’re talking about, and they are good at taking cliché ideas and making them new. Just look at the Toy Story films. On the surface, there’s not a whole lot particularly unique about them. But the films themselves are brilliant, witty and have a great way of impacting on both children and other generations. Toy Story, Monsters Inc and Bug’s Life, to me, were all amazing, and make up a strong part of my childhood. I remember being super excited for Toy Story 2, and even at an age where I am technically an adult, I practically jumped for joy when I heard about Toy Story 3, and looked forward very eagerly to Monsters University.

Happily, I was not disappointed.

The humour, as it is a kid’s film, is a little simple in some places, though there are some brilliant moments that feel almost slipped in for the adults, and the jokes throughout remain strong whatever age you are. It’s fun to see the budding relationship between Mike and Sulley, and to see how they go from enemies to friends, and even a little bit of how they progress through Monsters Inc itself, bringing us to the starting point of the first film.

(SPOILERS COMING UP, if you haven’t seen the film)

maxresdefaultI have to admit, the ending left me a little conflicted. It’s a kid’s film, which usually means stories of following your dreams no matter the odds, overcoming obstacles, succeeding because you’re so damn unique. Monsters University takes a different route. Instead of Mike and Sulley overcoming all the odds, we see Sulley cheating so Mike can feel he’s a proper scarer, and Mike trying to prove himself by breaking the rules and putting everyone in danger. As such, they get kicked out of the University itself. Mike, as we know, doesn’t become a scarer, but he does put the skills he’s learnt to use, and helps Sulley do what he cannot. In a way, they don’t succeed, and yet…they still prove themselves. They have forged a lifelong friendship, have grown as characters, and there’s the feeling that, even if you can’t be the best at what you want to do, you can be the best in another way.

And really, isn’t that a better lesson to teach kids? More realistic, more down to earth. That you may not always reach your dreams, but that other dreams do come and just because something doesn’t work out doesn’t mean you have to give up.


Monsters University is a fitting sequel to the original film, one that will appeal to everyone, whether they grew up with Monsters Inc or have never even seen the film. More importantly, I’d strongly recommend this to anyone who did watch the first film when it came out. To me, it’s a great reminder of what Pixar meant to me as a kid, and who doesn’t want to connect to their childhood self, at least once in a while?


Whether reader or writer, there will always be those characters that stick in your head for a long, long time. They’re the ones that randomly pop into your head as you’re going about your daily business, and demand attention. As a reader, they make you wonder what could possibly be happening to them right this minute. As a writer, they nag you until you give them some more page time.

I’ve found this a lot with some of the things I’ve written. There are some characters that just refuse to go away, even if you’ve tried to kill them off. There are characters who demand to pop up in something else, or who I just keep returning to. One of the major things that’s caused this for me has been my sci-fi, post-apocalyptic trilogy. The story starts off with Jake, a bit of a dickhead, who gets dragged to a bunker by his best friend Chuck when a nuclear attack becomes imminent. I originally wrote it for NaNoWriMo, when I got bit by the zombie virus. But then more things kept popping up. I ended up doing a sequel, where Jake and co head back to Cardiff to try to find their family. They come across others, and end up sitting on a hill as the world explodes. Again.

For a while before writing the sequel, I had been playing around with the idea of The Black Cat – a superhero type character who fights against an evil organisation. I was finding it difficult to start it, and then, well, it just seemed to fit perfectly as the third book in the trilogy. Kitty is infected by the same thing that affects Jake and his friends near the end of the first book, but she’s slightly different. Whereas most people experience one symptom, she experiences a few, and after making her way home, ends up trying to help others who are infected. As I was writing it, different aspects fell into place, and I ended up having a lot of fun working in some of the basic ideas from the previous two books.

But that wasn’t the end.

The whole set-up just kept popping back into my head, reminding me there was so much more to this world than the characters explored in the three novels. I’ve lost count of how many short stories I’ve written based on this, focusing in part of the infected characters, jumping into the future to find that organisation hasn’t quite been destroyed…and new ideas for this just keep coming all the time. The first three books need some work, but I’ve always found that short stories can really help in hashing out ideas for overall novels, for exploring characters and concepts, even if some of the ones written don’t make it into the main novel.

Similarly, I’ve had characters who refuse to let go. One novel I did a while ago was about a band who makes it big, and the female journalist who almost discovers them. (It’s a romance – of course she ends up dating the lead singer.) As a teenager, I used to write stories for me and my friends, and bands usually played a big role in them. One of these popped up again in my head a while back, and suddenly I had the missing link that meant the original stuff never worked. Blending the two together, I’m currently writing a sequel based on another small band, who get taken on tour with the original band. And I’m having more fun writing it than I did as a teenager, maybe because I already have a small part of the cast formed before starting the rewrite.

So what about you? Any characters – from your own work or others – who just won’t leave you alone?

et cetera