Monsters University – Review

Monsters University is the prequel to Monsters, Inc., providing the back-story on how Sully and Mike Wazowski became the great “scarers” they were, focusing on their time in college.  There are a lot of great messages in the movie—honesty, friendship, forgiveness, teamwork, learning to value each other, learning to value yourself, seeing the value in the things that make you unique/different, hard work, etc.  Most of this is done through the contrast of Sully and Mike.

Mike is type A, disciplined and very driven.  He’s also a nobody, from nowhere—a small guy who is always overlooked.  He just wants to prove he’s worth something, and no one but himself has ever believed he had any potential.  He’s your typical underdog, the Vince Papale of the story (anyone see Invincible?).    Sully, however, is pretty much Mike’s polar opposite.  He’s large and impressive, laid back, undisciplined, from a famous family of scarers; the charismatic life of the party that everyone expects great things from.  The problem is, Sully is afraid to fail, so he isn’t trying at all.

You’ve seen these two before:  the guy who has every talent, every opportunity and yet does nothing with his gifts (Sully), and the underdog who has nothing in his favor, but hard work and desire push him farther than everyone else (Mike).  You see them in the movies.  Heck, it’s really a light-hearted, family-friendly, animated version of Gattaca, with a happier ending.  It’s Tristan and Alfred in Legends of the Fall…  (Mike and Alfred even say the same line:  “You mess up over and over again and everyone still loves you.”)  I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there—the point is you see these guys all over the movies.  You see them in real life.  And you can see them in the Bible.

Jesus talks about them in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30.  A master gave talents (a sum of money) to several of his servants while he was away.  He rewarded those who stewarded that money well and used it to make more money, by entrusting them with more.  To the one who did nothing with the talents he was given, the master had some harsh words:  “You wicked, lazy servant!”  He says that the servant should have at least invested it with bankers – it would have been a low return, but a sure one, and would have still increased his money.  At least that would have been something, but the servant did nothing.  So the master took away all that had been entrusted to the servant, leaving him with nothing.

I also was reminded of Jacob in the character of Sully.  Jacob may have had a heart in the right place, but he often went about accomplishing things in the wrong way.  He was told he would receive his father’s blessing, but rather than trust God to make it happen, he went about it through trickery and deception (at his mother’s bidding, granted).  Sully wanted to do well in school, but rather than putting in the hard work, he cheated.  Of course, as he saw it, “It’s not cheating.  I’m just leveling the playing field.”

Both Jacob and Sully had all they needed to be great in life, but still they were afraid and that fear motivated them to take control, to cheat, to try to “rig” the results.  Sully didn’t trust in hard work.  He didn’t know, deep down, if he really did have what it took.  Jacob didn’t trust in God, not in God himself, nor in his ability to fulfill His plan and His promises.  If he HAD trusted, he wouldn’t have been deceptive to his father.  Fortunately, both Jacob and Sully were caught in their deceptions, and discipline/consequences helped turn them around.  Both ended up being great in the end.  (This is a gross over simplification of the story of Jacob.  Please forgive me.)  (Read about Jacob starting in Genesis 25.)

In the end, Monsters University teaches us through Mike and Sully that natural talent isn’t enough.  There is no substitute for discipline and hard work.  Neither is natural talent definitive.  What I mean is, you aren’t defined by your talent, nor your lack of it.  Mike became more than his natural talent.  Sully had to work hard to live up to his.

It reminds me of one more story in the Bible.  In the Old Testament, Israel wanted a King.  The first King they had was one that they thought looked good.  He had everything they thought a king should have, at least as far as they could see, on the outside.  No one questioned his ability and his talent, but on the inside he was lacking.  He was insecure, and that made him jealous.  He didn’t trust God or try to rule in a way that pleased God.  The next King was one God chose.  He wasn’t necessarily everything you thought a king should be; his resume wasn’t particularly kingly, but his heart was.  God chose him based on his heart, on what was inside of him.  King David wasn’t perfect, but he had a heart after God’s and he ruled in a way that was obedient to God and pleased God.  (Read about Saul and David in 1 Samuel.)

For much of the movie, Sully and Mike are a lot like King Saul and King David.  Sully was at Mike’s throat, jealous, insecure and threatening.  Mike just wanted to get along.  He just wanted to do his thing.  He didn’t care to dethrone Sully in any way.  Then, they worked together for a while, aligned against a common enemy (just as Saul and David were aligned against Goliath).  Fortunately for Sully, he changed and didn’t stay jealous of Mike.  Unlike Saul and David, the two became genuine friends and each learned from the other.  Even though the stories don’t end the same, the characters and their motivations and the way other people see them/respond to them are very similar.

Monsters University provides a lot of great opportunity for discussion on a variety of themes and character issues.  It gives you a chance to talk with others about two classic stereotypes, ones in which we are all likely to see ourselves, and to discuss the pros and cons of each, and their various temptations.  Finally, most importantly, it provides any number of ways to connect to the Bible through those two archetypes.  I’ve mentioned several different connections, but those certainly aren’t the only ones.  Look for your own!  Challenge your kids to think of other Bible characters, or relationships that parallel Mike and Sully.  Hopefully Mike and Sully can be a gateway into some rich conversation and help you and your kids understand some Biblical characters in a deeper way.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Are you more like Mike or Sully?  Why?
  • Do you struggle more with feeling like a nobody (like no one expects anything of you), or with feeling the pressure to live up to everyone’s expectations?
  • What kinds of expectations do you think you have to live up to?
  • Mike and Sully are classic archetypes that appear over and over in the movies…can you think of any other movies or characters that are like them?
  • Who are some of the underdogs in scripture?  What made them underdogs?  How did they overcome and become somebody and do something great?
  • Who are some of the people in scripture that were expected to do great things, that didn’t really live up to their expectations?  Why didn’t they?  Did they ever (i.e. sometimes it’s a season when they fail, but in the end they change, like Sully did, and others times they just never become)?
  • What do you think matters more, the talent you have, or the heart you have?  What matters more to God?
  • In the parable of the talents, it’s pretty clear that God is more concerned with what you do with what you’ve been given than He is with what you were given in the first place.  That being so, how do you think you are doing?  Do you think God is pleased with what you’ve done with what He’s given you?  How do you think you could do better?

Review by Stacey Tuttle

Click here to read a collection of Quotes from Monsters University.