G; 110 min.
It has been 12 years since we were introduced to Monstropolis and the city’s power company Monsters, Inc., where scream energy is harnessed from terrified children. That’s where we met the furry blue giant named James P. “Sulley” Sullivan and his wisecracking lime-green cyclops buddy Mike Wazowski.
Disney-Pixar’s Monsters University brings us back to the time when Sulley and Mike were not quite BFFs. When Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) steps on to the Monsters U campus, he’s determined to become one of the top scarers. Mike believes if he works hard and studies harder he can be the best. But his plan gets thwarted by the Big Man on Campus, James P. Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman), whose father was a famous scarer. Slacker Sullivan thinks he can get by with his natural talent.
The rivalry between Sulley and Mike escalates until they are deemed unworthy by the School of Scaring’s Dean Hardscrabble (voiced by a wonderfully wicked Helen Mirren). In order to get back into her not-so-good graces, they join Oozma Kappa, a band of misfit monsters, to compete in the annual Scare Games — think a cuddlier, humorous Hunger Games. Along the way, they learn about teamwork and friendship.
While Monsters U is visually stunning in candy-colored pastels, the story feels paint-by-numbers. Monsters U has moments of good humor but it doesn’t match the wit or inventiveness of Monsters, Inc. In fact, the 3-D version is almost unnecessary except for one of the key scenes at the end when Mike tries to prove his worth.
When I asked my 12-year-old what he felt the message of the movie was, he said, “You need to play to your strengths.” Disney-Pixar’s decision to give it the old college try with a prequel should have played to the storytelling strengths of the original. Don’t miss the bonus short, Blue Umbrella, a delightful wordless romance that tracks two umbrellas on a rainy day. A simple, satisfying prelude to a night of animation.