Pixar’s latest film is the Monsters, Inc. prequel Monsters University; while it’s expected to do well, I think it will do even better.
Like every Pixar film, Monsters University is rightfully presumed to be one of the biggest hits of the year; however, that hasn’t stopped some from playing down its potential. On the surface, that would seem fair; the first film did make $255 million, but that was 12 years ago. Add that large gap between films onto the fact that the 3D re-release of Monsters, Inc. didn’t do as well as hoped, and you can see the naysayers’ point start to take shape. As Dominic Cobb would say, we have to go deeper.
Look at Pixar’s most successful film, Toy Story 3. That film made $415 million in the US and became Pixar’s first (and, thus far, only) billion-dollar worldwide movie. Why was it so successful? First and foremost, it is a great movie. If Cars 2 proved anything, it’s that Pixar is capable of making a not-great movie, so that’s obviously the first hurdle Monsters University has to clear. That’s a given, though; why else was Toy Story 3 so successful? Sure, it’s great, but every PIxar movie is great (save, Cars 2), and it did better than all of them. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that the “Toy Story” brand played a part in making that film such a success, but that still doesn’t explain the massive success. To me, the biggest factor in Toy Story 3 being received so well was actually the time that had passed since Toy Story 2.
Yes, the very same thing people worry about with Monsters University actually proved to be a boon to Toy Story 3’s success. It had been 11 years since Toy Story 2, and that made all the difference. Toy Story 3 appealed to children because: of course it did; every Pixar film appeals to children, but that time gap allowed Toy Story 3 to appeal to those children who weren’t anymore. Those “kids” who, in 1999, were children, but, in 2010, were now themselves going off to college. What was the toys’ beloved Andy doing? Going to college. What are the fans of Monsters, Inc. doing 12 years later? Going to college. What are the monsters doing in Monsters University? Going to college. It’s not exactly rocket science to realize this film will appeal to a larger than usual percentage of the movie-going population, which should translate to a larger box office haul than many think.
Something else Toy Story 3 had, though, was sentimentality; we weren’t just attached to Toy Story 2, but alsoToy Story, 15 years prior. Those of us who were kids in 1995 had grown up with the Toy Story franchise, so we had genuine emotions toward letting it go; that was all laid out on the screen in front of us, with Andy finally letting his “toys” go (symbolizing the universal experience of releasing childhood). Obviously, Monsters University will not have that (Monsters, Inc. already did kind of have that) and, as a result, will not be quite as successful as Toy Story 3. There just isn’t that deep connection with Monsters, Inc. that there is/was with Toy Story, but don’t let that fool you into thinking Monsters University won’t bring the waterworks. As John Lasseter says (and Walt Disney said), “For every laugh, there should be a tear.” That’s part of Pixar’s core philosophy, so you can bet, even though it won’t be as gut-punchingly emotional as Toy Story 3, you’ll need to bring some tissues to the theater, and all of that will add up to a surprisingly big success for Pixar, even though we really shouldn’t be surprised at all.