BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - School may be out for the summer, but there’s still time to enroll in Monsters University. Disney and Pixar’s latest movie is also the latest in the barrage of sequels that the animation studio has been making based off their now classic films. It’s been twelve years since moviegoers were introduced to the characters of Mike and Sulley in Monsters Inc. working hard to collect screams of human children only to find out that their laughter is more powerful than fear. So, naturally the next step would be to see where their partnership began.
Monsters University is based more on the development of the character of Mike Wazowski, the one-eyed green monster voiced brilliantly in both films by Billy Crystal. After a school field trip to the Monsters Inc. building as a child, Mike sees his future career path enfolding right in front of his eye and makes it his lifelong goal to go to Monsters University to become a full-fledged Scarer. There are a few obstacles in Mike’s path though, and the main one being, he’s just not that scary.
This film plays on the tropes of a college movie very heavily, i.e. rival fraternities and sororities, a band of misfits trying to be recognized by the cool kids, the nerdy kid who’s trying too hard, the wannabe cool kid who begrudgingly befriends the misfits but realizes that they’re really his true friends, the scary headmistress, etc. Yet somehow, Monsters University manages to make these all seem fresh and new. Most impressively is how they manage to capture the essence of college life and aim it towards a younger audience. When I think of college movies, the things that come to mind are the American Pie-esque raunchy, beer-soaked party type films. So for the writers to capture the social structures exclusive to college life and make them accessible to a much younger audience, while not alienating the older audience at the same time is a great feat.
I think that the mark of a great children’s film is one that adults can enjoy equally. When filmmakers take into consideration the presence of the parents in any kids movie and throw in a few mature jokes besides the surprisingly common fart joke, I wholeheartedly appreciate it. Monsters University keeps the humor fun and light for the kids, but I caught myself laughing out loud throughout the whole movie. The audience for this movie is very wide as it encompasses adults, kids and then the twenty-somethings who grew up with Mike and Sulley as kids and want to soak up some nostalgia.
While the character development and relationship between Mike and Sulley is very well orchestrated, I think the weakest link is the set-up for the rivalry between Monsters Inc.’s villain Randall Boggs (voiced by Steve Buscemi) and Sulley (voiced by John Goodman). There was the potential for a heart-breaking rift between Randall and Mike, especially when the film set them up as roommates in the very beginning. They were starting to develop a friendship and then all of a sudden, Randall started hanging out with the “cool” fraternity. Randall’s skill, to refresh your memory, is a chameleon-like way of turning invisible and the novelty of that is the only reason the cool kids let him hang out with them. But after that, you don’t really see any more interaction of Randall with any of the other characters until the climactic scene of the movie and the lack of character development makes his set-up of arch-enemy to Mike and Sulley fall a bit flat.
While by the end Mike may have been OK with being “OK” (a wonderful play on words with the name of Mike’s fraternity: Oozma Kappa), and Sulley may have been thinking of himself as a disappointment to his family’s apparent scaring legacy, the two of them come to realize that together, they are stronger. It’s a movie that shows the power of sticking to your dreams, working hard and friendships. Writing it out may make it sound cliché to any children’s film, but you'll leave this movie with a smile on your face; it's a geniune feel-good move. For a year that seems to be largely lacking in good children’s fare, Monsters University is definitely worth your time no matter how old you are.
P.S. Stay after the credits finish because there is a cute little bookend scene to one of the jokes set up during the film.
Monsters University is rated G, the running time is 104 minutes. Read more about the film here.