The only thing scary about Monsters University is its inability to live up to its predecessor.
It’s been a while since we were first introduced to good-guy monsters Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Jim “Sully” Sullivan (John Goodman), the dynamic duo inMonsters, Inc. Now, Pixar gives us a prequel to the 2001 movie, showing how Mike and Sully first became friends during their college years.
The movie opens with a young Mike as he becomes inspired to grow up to be a great Scarer on a kindergarten field trip. As he studies diligently to finally gain admission to be a scaring major at the prestigious Monsters University, Mike is told over and over again that he’s just not scary. Next to his roommate, Sully, a legacy Scarer, Mike is forced to study hard to prove himself. The two are highly competitive, and in an odd turn of events, both get kicked out of the scaring program. However, all is not lost: Mike makes a bold bet with Dean Hardscrabble(Helen Mirren) that if the pair wins, will regain them admission to the program; if they lose, however, Mike alone must leave MU forever. The only way for them to re-enter the program is to win the annual Scaring Games with the only fraternity that will take them, a group of less-than-frightening misfit monsters who are part of the Oozma Kappa (OK) frat.
It’s a fairly straightforward plot that emphasizes the importance of teamwork, embracing your own identity as opposed to your legacy and recognizing that our dream careers don’t necessarily define us. Audiences walk away with the lesson that we are constantly growing and changing, and that it’s okay to be scared of that sometimes.
It was kind of funny to see Pixar’s interpretation of college. The resident assistants on campus were just as painfully peppy as they are at Georgetown, and there’s a lot of pressure to get into the “good” Greek houses. What hit closest to home, though, was the fact that Dean Hardscramble uncannily resembles the School of Foreign Service’s — and my own — Dean Mini Murphy. While this movie was definitely rated G for a reason (there was one party scene, but no reference to alcohol or drugs), there were still some bits of humor for adults to appreciate as well. My personal favorite was Art (Charlie Day), the philosophy student who just didn’t quite have a grip on reality.
I’ve never really enjoyed movies that appear in 3-D, and this one’s effects were particularly weak with minimal impact on the plot. Unless you’re taking a younger sibling who needs the characters to pop out of the screen in order to keep his or her attention, you’re better off saving a little cash.
The majority of the movie was upbeat and witty — much like the original — but the last five minutes or so took away from the film completely. Without giving anything away, I have no idea why writer Robert L. Baird went in the direction that he did. Sure, it still connects nicely with Monsters, Inc., but I still found it surprising as a prospective college graduate about to hit grad school and/or the job market, and I have no idea how I’d interpret it as a younger member of the audience. But I suppose if Disney Pixar characters can make settling work, than maybe I can, too.
All in all, this is the perfect film to treat your kid siblings or cousins to, or indulge with your friends as a guilty pleasure. While Monsters University isn’t really date-night material, it’s cute, even though it’s far from Pixar’s best work.