I recently had the chance to see “Monsters University,” the latest from Pixar. I thought it was, overall, a delightful film. Here, I will share my thoughts on the movie from a Christian perspective. There will be SPOILERS below.
Pixar did an excellent job capturing the true feeling of adventure at university; the first step on campus, orientation, the first class, friends, and more. I’ll never forget the feeling of anticipating meeting the roommate for the first time; sitting in the first class, and the like. The antics, the fun, and the learning that went on was joyous, and Monsters University does a great job recreating it in film… with monsters.
But there is a darker side to university. Roommates can fall out of favor with each other (I’m thankful my roomie and I remain great friends!), pranks can go wrong, bullies have made it into school as well, and classes can be failed. Monsters University dives into these themes headfirst. Mike Wazowski and James P.”Sulley” Sullivan are immediately at odds. Sulley is able to ride his family name and his size to largely succeed at the school; Mike continues to hit the books. Sulley gets credit for anything good that happens around him; Mike is left in the dust.
However, when Sulley and Mike are both kicked out of their program as “scarers,” they end up being thrust together on a team to try to make it back. In the time that follows, Sulley has to cope with his own inadequacies, Mike has to realize that he needs to work with a team, and the rest of the team learns about their own strengths.
There is a call in this movie: a call to realize there is more to people than meets the eye. Everyone has unique strengths and weaknesses. There is also a call to realize one’s own inadequacies and the need to work together with others.
At today’s university, we are also assaulted by a vast array of choices. One scene in the movie poignantly addressed this: Mike is walking through campus, where stands are set up all around calling for his attention: should he join the debate team, the art club, the scare contest, or others? Similarly, there are any number of things vying for our youth’s attention when they go to university. Have we equipped them to deal with the choices they will inevitably need to make?
There is something to be said for the notion that scaring is a good thing among the monsters. This theme is treated with great lightness as a children’s film, but at points it seemed disturbing to me. These monsters need to harvest the screams of children (or others) in order to supply power for their society. Thus, they sneak into a child’s room and scare them in order to make them scream. Although these monsters are generally “nice” “people,” the fact that their job is to scare children as much as possible seems a little untoward.
The question for Christians here, I think, is how much we allow artistic license. Clearly, this film is a fantasy. The monsters are portrayed as “good guys” but this doesn’t necessitate that monsters are bad guys, it is simply a plot device. But, one may press, they are still monsters, and they are still scaring people for a living. How do we discuss such themes?
Garret Johnson has argued that “In all meaningful fiction, there exists an element of fear… The reason all humans respond to this kind of story, the reason the profound reality of fear preceding the most meaningful outcomes resonates with us, is because this is the story of our universe.”
He grounds this discussion in the fact that our own story–the Christian story–points to this reality. There is fear of death, but it is overcome; from tears, joy; from death, life.
“Monsters University” is comedy which will take adults back to days in school, with all the good and bad times that may offer. The themes of reconciliation and teamwork are refreshing, and the undertone of fear is an intriguing thing to speculate upon. How much does fear point us back to our reality; what hope is there in our lives? Will our tears be turned to joy?
Clearly, these questions go well beyond the scope of the film itself. But that does not mean one cannot use the film to dive into the deeper aspects of reality. For those looking to do so, “Monsters University” provides a compelling way forward. For those who aren’t, I would suggest that the themes found therein–particularly of reconciliation and the need to prepare our children for university–are worth the watch.
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Fiction and Fear– Over at Hieropraxis, Garret Johnson writes about the interesting links between fiction and fear. Check out this post for some very interesting discussion.
Be sure to check out my other looks at movies here (scroll down for more).
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