Pixar sends its Monsters back to class this weekend with, Monsters University, the first time the animation giant has made a prequel to a member of its stable of hit franchises.
Released Friday in the United States, the movie takes monster buddies Mike and Sulley back to their college days when they learned their scaring skills, displayed in the original 2001 blockbuster.
Pixar has made its share of sequels- think Cars 2 and Toy Story 2 and 3 - but the California-based studio's 14th feature film is the first to go back in time, to show where the Monsters Inc. characters come from.
The first film presented a cast of monsters in a world where the city's power was generated by children's screams. An army of scary creatures went into toddlers' bedrooms to make them wail as loudly as possible. Sulley, who looks like a cross between a blue bear and a dinosaur, was one of the top scarers, supported by his faithful friend Mike, a small green ball-shaped cyclops with one enormous eye.
In Monsters University, we see how they met in college, where loud-mouthed dilettante Mike was already the campus monster chief, while shy, hard-working Sulley could only dream of joining the top scarers. "We always knew that we wanted to tell the story of Mike wanting to become a scarer," director Dan Scanlon told AFP. "We knew that that was sort of the heart of the story, the idea of what do you do when you come up against a brick wall or you come up against a closed door. What becomes the issue is then just how do you tell that story."
But Scanlon, making his first feature-length movie for Pixar, admitted that at first, he and the writers struggled to come up with a compelling story to drive the prequel emotionally. "We were going down roads that seemed thin. Sometimes a story doesn't have an engine behind, it is just kind of meandering around a setting. OK, we have college, but what are they doing in college?" he said.
But they struck upon the idea of a misfit group, the Oozma Kappa fraternity of losers. "Once we included that group, the story came to life. Because it allowed Mike and Sulley to have someone to take care of," said Scanlon. "Having them taking care of the misfits or having to deal with this misfits group, it made them kind of a mom and dad that had to learn how to come together to take care of the kids. "And that element really changed the story. That's when we felt we're on the right track."
As with past films, including Finding Nemo (2003), Ratatouille (2007) or last year's Oscar-winning Brave, the Monsters prequel combines spectacle and fun with serious themes for youngsters, such as accepting tough reality. But it is also an ode to friendship, and how it can transcend differences and hurdles.
"Friendship is a big part of it... As you see when you meet Mike and Sulley, they are very different people than they are in the next film," said Scanlon.
"What I like about the film is that it sort of shows you how your friends can help make you who you need to be, especially when you're younger. They can not only help you find who you really are, not only help you find what things you're actually good at, but also help make you a better person."