Monsters, Inc., one of Pixar’s earlier movies, helped cement the company’s status as a giant in “family entertainment.” It’s an imaginative look at a world where the monsters in our closets aren’t really bad…they’re just using the screams of children to power their city. Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) are a team of “scarers” who find themselves accidentally in the possession of a “toxic” human child they call Boo and try to get her back through her closet door. The two friends get Boo home and reboot Monsters, Inc. into a company that rejects the idea of harvesting screams and instead reaps the benefits of children’s laughter, which is 10 times more powerful.
Instead of asking “where are they now?” Monsters University rewinds the clock and details Mike and Sulley’s endeavors (or lack thereof) in college. Mike spends day and night studying to be a Scarer and being told he’s not up to snuff; Sulley’s natural talent and his upbringing in a family of famous Scarers means he doesn’t feel the need to study. The two inevitably clash in the classroom and get kicked out of the program after a run-in with the chilling Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren).
The not-quite best friends join nerdy fraternity Oozma Kappa in order to participate in the annual Scare Games, a multi-part competition that evaluates teams based on their scaring abilities. Mike and Sulley know it’s a long shot, but winning the trophy will warrant them both a spot back in the Scaring program and get them one step closer to their goals.
In 2001, Monsters, Inc. was released. Even at the tender age of 11, when my standards for movies were much lower, I recall thinking deeply about this movie. I remember thinking how imaginative the world of Mike and Sulley was and reflecting on the powerful message that laughter is more powerful than fear.
12 years and many movie reviews later, my first thoughts after Monsters University were “That was…okay.” And it really was. It was just okay.
Nothing about it is terribly off-putting. The animation is (obviously) gorgeous, the story is engaging but pretty standard, and some of the new characters are interesting and well-animated. Dean Hardscrabble’s entrance got a few genuine shudders from the crowd and the members of Oozma Kappa elicited laughs, despite their short screentime.
But the novelty of the world of Monsters, Inc. just feels like a given here instead of new terrain that must be explored. The only addition that I found interesting was the emphasis on each human child’s manila folder profile that all Scarers have to look at before crossing over into the human world. This raises some ethical questions. Who exactly is profiling these children and how do they go about doing so? I would definitely watch a movie that addresses the issue of monsters from another world observing and detailing the lives of every child in the world.
There’s a bit of unintended poetry in the parallels between the character of Sulley trying to coast through the Scaring program on his family name and natural ability and Pixar’s most current efforts (Cars 2) failing to live up the previous decade of their movies. It built its brand on stunning animation and ability to pull to the heartstrings. Monsters University has gorgeous animation, but as far as the tear-inducing category goes, it doesn’t quite pass the class.