What It Is
Monsters University is set years before Sully (John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal) are hardworking monsters at the factory in Monsters, Inc. Because they’re animated monsters, though, they look and sound just the same as before. Or... after.
The prologue to the new film’s action asserts that, as long as he can remember, little kid-then-high-school-aged Mike has wanted to be an awesome and also accredited scarer, and so, he plans for years that he’ll go to college and get a degree in the field. When he arrives on campus, however, he learns that the classes are demanding, the exams difficult, and the expectations high. Right away, he’s dismissed by Professor Knight (Alfred Molina) and then Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) as being too small and cute to seem scary to kids who might wake in the middle of the night and find a green, two-legged eyeball in their room. The logic here may be elusive, but the point is that Mike’s got something to prove.
That effort is complicated when Mike meets Sully for the first time. As hard as good student Mike will work at his classes, bad student Sully will slack. A legacy student, his family’s brilliant scaring reputations granting him admission to the university, Sully’s soon enough on the verge of failing out. The two boys dislike one another then like one another, bonding as well with the nerdiest fraternity on campus (see: Revenge of the Nerds).
Unlike those motley crew members in other Pixar movies (say, Toy Story), the fellows here are mostly interchangeable, from the returning student Don (Joel Murray) to the two-headed cuddly creature Terry (Dave Foley) and Terri (Sean Hayes) to the fuzzy purple monster who looks a bit like a table, Art (Charlie Day). Their bonding together leads to triumph in a big finale contest, followed by a problem, followed by more triumph. And so Sully and Mike learn the most important lesson of all, that being best friends is more important than being the best in an institutional contest.
Why It’s Fun
The best part of Monsters University is the Pixar short that precedes it, “The Blue Umbrella.” On a grey and rainy city street, a blue umbrella exchanges glances with a red umbrella: they’re separated, the blue umbrella is buffeted by wind and traffic, finds help from watchful traffic lights, gutters, and awnings, and finally re-finds the red umbrella, who smiles warmly in relief. Brief, charming, and wonderfully delicate.
About halfway through, Monsters University offers up its best joke: a snail on campus is worried that he’s going to be late for his first class, and the scene lingers on him for a few moments, as he does his best to make his way over an inch or two of sidewalk, his tiny arms in a flurry while he goes just about nowhere. The anomaly of the joke — why is a snail at a monsters’ college, anyway — underlines the film’s broader problems, that it’s short on ways to make the monsters in training concept funny.
Again, the film features precious few girls. In fact, apart from Dean Hardscrabble, a goth-girl student, and the exceedingly good sport mother (Julia Sweeney) of goofy frat brother Squishy (Peter Sohn), there are no others.
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans of Monsters, Inc. may be pleased to see Sully and Mike again, but may also miss the first film’s wit, strangeness, and ongoing contemplation of why scares might be good for us.
Less a prequel to Monsters Inc. than a lazy remixing of that nice surprise with other, less delightful formula films, Monsters University offers little that’s new, lots that’s familiar. The unlikely-little-guys-survive-college plot here doesn’t seem an obvious good fit for either Mike and Sully or — more importantly — their young target audience.
What To Be Aware Of
Mild cartoony violence, in which Sully and Mike and their friends fall down or sometimes hit each other.
Some of his peers insult Mike and his feelings are hurt.
4 out of 10
Director: Dan Scanlon
Cast: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Charlie Day, Alfred Molina, Tyler Labine, Nathan Fillion, Aubrey Plaza, Bobby Moynihan, Noah Johnston, Julia Sweeney, Bonnie Hunt, John Krasinski, Bill Hader, Beth Behrs, Bob Peterson, John Ratzenberger
Studio: Disney, Pixar
US General Release: June 21, 2013
UK General Release: July 12, 2013