Confession: I really didn't see the need to make a sequel to Monsters, Inc. I was worried that Pixar was losing its mojo and trying to rehash old success.
But having seen Monsters University I was happy to find that there's still a lot of energy and humor in the franchise. I enjoyed Monsters University more than the original and parents will be happy to know that a lot of the humor is aimed at them — from hilarious use of teen stereotypes and amusing details about college life to the fact that the whole movie is essentially a cleaner and funnier remake of Revenge of the Nerds. There are a lot of college comedy tropes that you might recognize here.
The audience I watched it with was predominantly adults and they had a great time. And so did the kids. I brought my ten-year-old daughter and a couple of her friends and they enjoyed it immensely. Although, after the fact my daughter claimed to have enjoyed the original movie more. When I asked if she had any trouble relating to the story she said, "Well, I haven't gone to college." Touché.
All the jokes are presented on a solid story framework that is rooted in the relationship between Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James "Sully" Sullivan (John Goodman). Sully is a real jerk through most of the movie but his bad attitude is believable because he arrives at college as the conceited son of a celebrity scarer. The tension between Sully and Mike works to provide a strong dramatic backbone for the movie while Sully's development over the course of the story provides deeper insight into both of these familiar characters.
The filmmakers take their time bringing the character development full circle to the place their relationship is in Monsters, Inc., which is further proof that the Pixar story brain trust is still going strong.
The whole Monsters concept presents an interesting challenge. How do you believably portray monsters in the closet that have an economy based on the screams of children and yet still maintain a family-friendly G rating? Everything in the Monsters world is brightly lit and candy-colored and, at most, some of the monsters manage a vague creepiness. Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) has a centipede-like lower half that might give insectophobes the willies but beyond that any number of these monsters would make very popular plush toys.
There's a moment late in the movie where Mike and Sully need to be truly scary and yet the tension is diffused for smaller children because throughout the scene it's obvious to the audience that it's just Mike and Sully. It's a fine line to walk. Some viewers may wish for more of a scary edge but this is movie is appropriate for all ages including the smallest viewers.
As a postscript, the Pixar short film The Blue Umbrella that runs before every showing of Monsters University is a technical marvel but I thought a little too heavy on the pathos.
Monsters University opens everywhere June 21.
About the author: John Kubalak is a writer, teacher, volunteer coordinator, raconteur, and scalawag. He does not publish science fiction under the pseudonym Jonathan Black but he does publish a monograph on fatherhood, The Eclectic Dad. He has a son, a daughter, a beautiful wife (and a little dog too!) who are adorable, maddening, zany, and brilliant all at the same time.