The previous film, Monsters, Inc., was released in 2001. Now, 12 years later, even the youngest of audiences who saw that film in theaters will have thoughts of college, while older audiences will have memories of it. So it makes sense that the follow-up “monsters” film would focus on university life. And while Monsters University doesn’t recapture the magic or sheer brilliance of Monsters, Inc., it’s still a very good movie and entertaining in all the ways that matter.
Before Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sully (voiced by John Goodman) were the best friends that audiences know and love, they started off as rivals at Monsters University, one of the prestigious institutions of higher learning in the monster world. For Mike, Monsters University is a dream come true, because there he can learn to become a scarer: a monster that scares human children in order to harvest their screams that power the monster world. For Sully, Monsters University is a foregone conclusion due to his legacy status as part of the Sullivan line of scarers. When their paths cross, they develop a bitter rivalry, matching book smarts against natural ability. Unfortunately, their squabbling gets them both thrown out of the scarer program by Dean Hardscrabble (voiced by Helen Mirren). Refusing to give up, Mike strikes a desperate bargain with her, wagering that he and his team of outcast monsters can win the campus-wide Scare Games to prove that he belongs in the scarer program. But if his team loses, Mike and Sully must leave Monsters University for good.
Monsters University retains all of the charm from the first film and then some. The monster world is richly detailed and full of the oddball creatures audiences expect. And while the majority of the film is definitely geared for the grown audiences of the previous film, Monsters University ensures that this generation of young viewers are still represented via a child version of Mike, who is simply adorable.
Once Mike starts attending Monsters University, however, the story loses much of its creative uniqueness and instead turns into a generic college rivalry film, albeit lacquered in a thick coat of the Monsters brand. It’s never disappointing, and the film always engrosses, hitting all the right beats, plot points and dramatic turns, but it feels less about being monsters, and more about being a college student. So while there are some monster-centric bits and gags, like a slug monster doing his best not to be late to class, people who are or have been to college will probably get the most entertainment out of the film.
As a coming-of-age film, Monsters University is solid, if not a little predictable. For Mike’s and Sully’s rivalry early on there really is no other way to present it other than brains versus brawn. Nevertheless, predictability properly executed is part of the formula for a satisfying film, and Monsters University doesn’t disappoint. So while audiences know that Mike and Sully are going to survive their early losses – because otherwise there would be no story – the filmmakers still manage to create drama and tension, keeping the film from being a simple exercise in disposable entertainment. And while most of the story may be on the bland side, the story comes together spectacularly in the end.
Ultimately, this is another solid Pixar offering. The voice talent performs flawlessly, perfectly complementing the standout animation, and the writing is everything audiences can ask for from a family film; it features real life challenges that resolve with a positive solution and message. Adults and college-bound teens will have the best time with Monsters University, but there’s still plenty for the young ones to enjoy. For the safe bet this weekend, see this film.