Before they became a formidable scaring duo, Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James Sullivan (John Goodman) were not really the best of friends; in fact, quite the opposite. Mike was the one eager to be a scarer but ended up being an outcast for not being scary enough. Sully was the popular one because of his family name and mere physical appearance. Certain circumstances endangering their attendance at Monsters University bring them together despite their differences and this becomes the start of a lifelong partnership that will eventually elevate them to greater heights.
As a prequel, it works well because it answers many questions that makes the original movie more logical. We get to know the origin of the characters, Randall's pronounced hatred towards Sully, the whole scream-as-energy premise that serves as the backbone of the film's universe. Whatever question you might have had back then will surely be answered now. Coming up with a sequel might have been a bad idea, although with the presence of this prequel, everything might just fall into place for a cohesive trilogy.
Boo is obviously not here. She probably was not even born yet, and you cannot help but miss her delightful presence. She served as the lucky charm of the original movie, and one would think that the Monsters brand would not be the same without her around. The movie makes up for this loss by introducing a setting that will not really alienate anyone: University. For anyone who has been bullied, recruited by a fraternity, obsessed with grades, and all those life-and-death scenarios back then that are just laughable now in retrospect, it would be hard not to reminisce. That means that the target audience has been expanded from kids to virtually everyone who has had a college education.
Was it effective? Box office figures say so. Another factor would be the long lag between the original movie and this prequel. Pixar seems to be doing this a lot lately, first with Toy Story and now with Monsters. It is rumored that Finding Dory is also in the works. This is an effective strategy because it is assured that a captive audience is in place, namely that generation that grew up with the franchise, who would then be passing the craze on to the new generation under their care, earning a new set of audience in the process.
What is interesting to see now is which animated sequel would come out on top, as Despicable Me 2 has also proved to be a legit threat in the North American Box Office. A noteworthy observation would be how the latter is engaged in a different kind of marketing strategy that has also proved to be successful. Whatever the outcome, the amused children will eventually be the winners, not just in terms of enjoyment but also in terms of the moral lessons they are bound to learn.
Monsters University is full of life's cliches: of the desperation to belong; of finding one's own path to success no matter how unconventional it seems; of drawing the line between what you want and what you are really good at. Repetitive as they might seem, these cliches exist because they always ring true, and echo some realities of life that are better not ignored. Those lessons might be intended for the kids, but adults could also learn a thing or two from them. That, along with the friendly style of entertainment that has defined the Pixar brand for years now, makes this movie work.