Does Pixar Subvert The Truly Monstrous?

Jeffrey Overstreet tackles a “Monsters University” critic.
on Jun 27, 2013 · No comments

Among other explorations of Pixar’s recent film Monsters University, fantasy author and film reviewer Jeffrey Overstreet quotes Christianity Today reviewer Timothy Wainwright’s criticism:

By making monsters adorable, Monsters University destroys the meaning of the word monster. And the wisdom of tradition and faith, which remind us that bad things are very real, tells us that children must know the meaning of that word.

poster_monstersuniversityReading this criticism, I’m even dangerously close to the absurd saying, It’s just a movie. But because a story is never “just” anything, and should not be insulted this way, here is a more-substantive yet short rebuttal: this is silly, for even in Pixar’s “monster world” some things are scary, such as failure to graduate or achieve — a much more realistic fear than that of real-life scary-looking critters.1

Overstreet, himself no stranger to the university scene, fully engages the criticism.

I didn’t see “heroes and villains” in this film. I saw monsters who represent the kinds of people students may encounter in college. Some are bullies, some are cowards, some are brainiacs, some are prodigies, some are leaders, some are followers. And that’s fine.

Villains can be an important part of storytelling, but some of the most meaningful stories of my childhood had no villains at all. In fact, some of the most important were stories that took my expectation of a villain and turned that upside, making me learn not to see the world as divided into “good guys” and “bad guys.”

And my commitment to following Jesus Christ compels me to realize that all human beings are “bad guys” to one degree or another, and when we start dividing ourselves into “the good guys” (us) and “the bad guys” (others), we are on the road to becoming monsters ourselves.2

Read the rest at Overstreet’s Looking Closer.

  1. There is a possible risk of moral relativism here, as pointed out in Surprise! Wrong Villain. In saying “monsters aren’t what you always expect,” we might also say or connote that “there are no real monsters.” However, Monsters University clearly shows that some campus monsters are truly monstrous, yet in very human ways.
  2. Overstreet may disagree, but Scripture shows that truth alongside this one: Christ still commanded, and set precedent for, His people to discern the differences between Christians and non-Christians (though never for the purpose of boasting).
E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.

What say you?