Monsters University

Directed by:  Dan Scanlon

Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Nathan Fillion, Sean Hayes, and John Krasinski

It has been 12 years since Monsters, Inc. debuted in 2001. It was a solid animated movie, but in my humble opinion, it never quite reached the legendary heights of Toy Story, Shrek or The Incredibles. I am happy to report that Monsters University, a prequel to Monsters, Inc., surpasses its predecessor, and is smart, fun and filled with life lessons for children and adults.

Mike Wazowski (Noah Johnston/Billy Crystal) is a one-eyed green monster. When he is in grade school, Mike goes on a field trip to Monsters Inc., a power company that fuels the world of monsters via the screams of human children. When Mike visits the power plant, he is in awe of the “Scarers,” the monsters who creep into children’s bedrooms and scare them. His dream is to become a Scarer. The problem, however, is that Mike looks like a green M & M with one eyeball, which is not very menacing. However, Mike does not let that deter him and he sets his sights on getting into Monsters University and graduating from the School of Scaring.

Mike works hard and is ultimately accepted into Monsters University and the School of Scaring program. Mike is still dismissed as a non-threatening nerd, but he studies diligently. Much to Mike’s chagrin, his hard work is often ignored because of James P. “Sulley” Sullivan. Sulley is a large monster and he comes from an elite family of Scarers. He is automatically the big man on campus and welcomed with open arms by the number one fraternity Roar Omega Roar. Mike and Sulley are instant enemies—book smarts versus natural talent. Sulley glides by on natural menace and Mike excels academically.

It all comes to a head, however, when Mike and Sulley get into a fight during the Scaring exams, infuriate Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), and are kicked out of the School of Scaring. The only way that Mike and Sulley can get back into the Scaring program is if they win the Scare Games, an annual event in which sororities and fraternities compete to be crowned the scariest monsters on campus. Mike and Sulley join the nerds/rejects in Oozma Kappa and try to defy expectations and scare their way to the championship.

Monsters University is a fun romp.  With colorful characters, superb animation and a compelling underdog story, there is a little something for everyone in the film.  There are notable performances from the actors.  Billy Crystal and John Goodman definitely shine in the lead roles and bring life to their animated characters.  Helen Mirren also delivers a cold, intimidating performance as Dean Hardscrabble, and is incredibly entertaining.

Monsters University also delivers a nice moral for kids. Mike is the perpetual underdog who truly believes that he can defy all odds.  He thinks that if he works hard enough, he can overcome bullies, hard-nosed teachers, and his own diminutive stature to become a world class scarer.  Despite being mocked and dismissed, Mike continues to fight for his dreams and he brings his fellow underdogs with him.  At the end of the day, all monsters, big and small, can achieve anything they set their minds to.

Although the film is entertaining, it does not necessarily push the envelope in terms of plot. The film strikes me as a Revenge of the Nerds flick with monsters.  While that concept is fine, it does not break any new ground.  Moreover, the film focuses a little too much on making Monsters University like a human university.  Instead of “we scare because we care”, the tagline could have been “Monsters, they’re just like us.”  The filmmakers should have focused on the uniqueness of the monster world and what monsters can do, rather than turning the university into a regular college with monsters.  I think that would have added some originality to the film.

While Monsters University is not an instant classic, it is definitely worth taking the kids to see, and with a cast that includes Crystal, Goodman, and Mirren, there is something for the adults as well.  Monsters University earns a strong 0.06% rating.