When my daughter was young, I found myself watching movies through her eyes. I came to appreciate films that delivered a positive message even if I felt they had shortcomings. As an adult, I can tell you that Monsters University is amusing, brightly-colored entertainment with more plot than is truly necessary. As a parent, I can applaud a story that not only celebrates oddballs and underdogs but shows how young outcasts can find their way in the world, by helping each other.
This prequel to Monsters, Inc. follows the fortunes of Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) as they make their way through a formidable freshman year at M.U., where they hope to become Scarers. For Sulley it should be a breeze: his father was a celebrated Scarer and he has the look of a fearsome creature. For Mike, it’s a different story: he has determination and enthusiasm to spare but he’s just not scary.
I can’t imagine how challenging it must have been for the Pixar team to fashion a second film all about icky, frightening creatures and their “career goal” without crossing a line and becoming too terrifying for its core audience of kids. Yet somehow they’ve managed to walk this fine line, and Monsters University is full of cleverly designed characters and concepts. Director Dan Scanlon and his co-writers Robert L. Baird and Daniel Gerson deserve credit for what they’ve accomplished.
At the same time, I wish the movie was funnier and wasn’t so plot-heavy, particularly in the third act. Pixar has raised the bar for animated features so high that when they turn out a film that’s merely good, instead of great, they have only themselves to blame for causing critics to damn them with faint praise.
But if I were still a parent with younger kids, hungry for G-rated entertainment that wouldn’t embarrass or insult me and my children, I’d be grateful for Monsters University.