Since he was just a tiny green eyeball, Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal: Parental Guidance) has dreamed of being a scarer. In Monstropolis, scarers are rock stars. They sneak into human children’s bedrooms at night — via an enchanted closet door — to frighten them. The screams of kids make the electricity that runs the monster world.
At Monsters University, the premier scaring school of Monstropolis, Mike hits his first impediment. Dedicated though he is to learning scaring, he’s not particularly frightening. He’s all technique and no talent.
His nemesis in class is James P. Sullivan (John Goodman: The Internship), a huge, horned, furry monster with a natural aptitude for roaring and teeth-bearing but no interest in studying. Their competition pits hard work against raw talent.
Their enmity draws the attention of Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren: Hitchcock). Thus to salvage their freshman year, Sully and Mike must join loser fraternity Oozma Kappa, teach their new brothers the secrets to a good scare and win the annual Scaring Games.
A sequel to 2001’s wildly successful Monsters Inc., Monsters University is a mash-up of Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds for the juice-box crowd. Not as original or as poignant as the original, Monsters University is still a worthy prequel that kept all ages laughing at my screening.
Thanks to some clever writing from Dan Scanlon (who also directed) and Robert L. Baird, Pixar continues its tradition of creating works that are hilarious for every age group. Kids will giggle at the silly antics of Mike and Sully and squeal at the slapstick humor. Adults will laugh at this monstrous version of college, especially if they went to a campus with Greek Week.
Pixar excels in the details, and this movie is no exception. From unique monster designs that give their world a diverse and whacky appearance to the weird activities of the art club, Monsters University convincingly builds on the world established in Monsters Inc. Not a frame goes by without a visual joke or reference. The building design is especially fun, featuring houses and classrooms styled to be sinister without traumatizing younger viewers.
A few minor issues keep this film from earning a 4.0. The character of Sully, who was a loveable lunk in the first movie, is a bit of a bully in this prequel. In fact, the character becomes downright unlikable and his ultimate redemption is a bit hollow.
Also, I’m still not sure I buy the film’s primary conceit: That Sully is a scarier creature than Mike. Perhaps I’m not up on scary stories to tell in the dark, but a disembodied, fanged eyeball would frighten me far more than a fluffy blue bear. There’s a reason Sully dolls are everywhere you look in Disney stores while Mike is left in the stockroom.
Still, the chemistry between Goodman and Crystal is magic and you can see, even when they’re warring, that Mike and Sully will be an excellent team. Crystal especially adds new layers to Mike’s personality, making the walking eyeball a sympathetic nerd who dreams of being that thing that goes bump in the night. Mirren is an amazing addition to the cast, oozing condescension and menace with every syllable she utters. The most interesting part of the film, however, is the end, which gives this tale of scholastic scaring a new twist.
For both grownups and kids who check the closet before bed, Monsters University is a grade A comedy.