Long before Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman) ever revolutionized the scare industry, they were just your average, run of the mill college student monsters. Mike was the typical bookworm, a hard worker with an academic approach to scare tactics and Sully the naturally talented but lazy prodigy who doesn’t put in much effort. Their rivalry results in their mutual expulsion from the Monsters University School of Scaring and their only path back to the course of their assumed destiny is the Scare Games, an intramural competition between the school’s fraternity and sorority houses. But while they both believe their own abilities will carry the load, they soon learn that winning in the Scare Games will require the sort of teamwork that both of them have struggled with in the past.
While Monsters Inc. might not be able to crack my top five Pixar films, it is, I believe, one of the better examples of the studio’s ability to bring real human emotions to otherwise foreign settings. In fact, aside from Up, it might be the most easily accessible Pixar film from an emotional level. I’ve always had a great soft spot for Monsters Inc. and its main characters are some of my favorite in the Pixar universe. That said, I’m not so sure that we needed a reunion with Mike and Sully. Their story is one that stands up beautifully on its own but I’ve never thought of it as a tale that needed to be added upon in either sequel or prequel form. Monsters University didn’t exactly change my opinion on that but at the very least I must give Pixar credit for developing an interesting premise while keeping the film in line with the spirit of the predecessor.
Much like the last two Pixar films (Cars 2, Brave), Monsters University is geared much more toward the kid audience than anyone else. Unlike those films, however, it also provides a good bit of content from the adult audiences. This element is what has always made Pixar the best in the business and while this movie is still a far cry from the best of the studio’s work, it is, if nothing else, a step in the right direction. College is, I think, an entertaining if not altogether original, setting for a film such as this and allows for a few moments that harken back to Animal House and the like and these little dalliances helped to keep my attention through all of the “Just be yourself” sentimentality that is aimed squarely at the kid audience. The supporting voice talent, featuring Nathan Fillion, Aubrey Plaza, Helen Mirren, and more is excellent and of course Billy Crystal and American Treasure John Goodman do their jobs quite well. The biggest improvement, however, on the last two Pixar entries is Monster University’s extra measure of heart. It may lack the ambition of Toy Story, The Incredibles, etc. but it does feel like this is a story director Dan Scanlon and Pixar wanted to tell whereas Cars 2 and (to a lesser extent) Brave felt more like cash grabs than anything else. It’s still a little too cute for my tastes but at the very least, I think Monsters University represents a step in the right direction and the beginning of a second era of incredible original content. Grade: B+ (Rated G)