Director. Dan Scanlon
Stars. Billy Crystal, John Goodman
3 (out of 5) stars
Pixar thrilled 5- and 6-year-olds with the adventures of Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James "Sulley" Sullivan (John Goodman) with 2001’s "Monsters, Inc." Twelve years later, the animation house is going back in time to send those same kids off to college in the prequel “Monsters University,” which looks at the duo's higher education experience.
What does a monster learn in college? Besides the conventional philosophy and computer programming programs, the science of scaring gets its own college, because a good monster is made, not born. Just as Edvard Munch created four versions of "The Scream," and Alfred Hitchcock died before he ran out of fears to exploit, there's no one scare that will work on everyone. Being able to walk through any child's door and scare them is about more than a loud roar from a toothy mouth. This is what Mike, the short green eyeball who has been told all his life that he's not a bit scary, studies tirelessly to learn.
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Meanwhile, Sulley uses his textbooks to prop up the ping-pong table in his frat house, expecting to coast on his naturally scary looks and his legendary father's reputation. Then Mike and Sulley both fail Scare Theory 101's final exam and must reluctantly join forces with the misfit fraternity brothers of Oozma Kappa ("We're OK!") to enter the school's Scare Games competition and prove themselves worthy of staying on.
This "Monsters" installment may not be as clever as the first one, but offers plenty of charm and laughs for anyone who's experienced college life. Through training montages and some Tri-wizard Tournament-style challenges, Sulley learns the value of strategy and Mike comes to appreciate his strength as a scare tactician. Professional Scarers work in teams on the factory floor, after all.
The movie doesn't offer an easy ending, but its message to college students holds with its 1940s setting rather than today's reality. But the moral of collaboration and hard work, displayed to genuinely thrilling effect at the climax of the film, makes a fine lesson for children who dream bigger than the world around them seems to allow.
The film is preceded by the Pixar vignette "The Blue Umbrella," which will fall flat to any city dweller who's lost one in the rain. Suffice it to say there's not a lot of good that happens to a rogue umbrella during a stormy night on a busy street.