I have been working on being kind towards this one, because it is a welcome return of two beloved characters, plus there’s really nothing all that bad about it. It’s a perfectly pleasant diversion—and that’s about it. Did I expect more? Yeah, I guess. Pixar has set the bar high for so many years now that downtime was inevitable. 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.”, the original film that spawned this “Monsters University” prequel, was a delightful charmer. But “Cars 2” was the nadir in 2011. They bounced back nicely in 2012 with “Brave”—a just fine film that would eventually garner the Best Animated Feature Academy Award this past February. “Monsters University” is about on a par with “Brave”(which was the weakest of last year’s Animated Feature Oscar field, says I), maybe even a little bit less. And it’s the human element that’s missing this time around sans the character of Boo. Without her, all of the focus is on Mike and Scully and their college antics—and it’s just not enough. It begins well, but then runs out of steam.
We first meet Mike Wazowski(Billy Crystal returning as the voice of the giant eyeball with legs)as a six year-old student visiting Monsters Inc. on a school field trip. You’ll remember from round one of this franchise that Monsters Inc. is where the energy of children’s screams are harvested after monsters enter special doorway “portals” into kids bedrooms at night to frighten them(I always thought it was an inspired screenplay idea). While his classmates are having the process demonstrated to them by a “scarer”, the young Mr. Wazowski slips into the portal with him—going completely undetected. Mike is scolded after this dangerous act, but ultimately complimented for his impressive stealth abilities. After being given a Monsters University cap as a souvenir, he dreams incessantly of one day becoming a “scarer” himself. Fast forward a dozen years and Mike heads off to college with just that purpose. He’s bright, dedicated, and he studies hard. And we soon meet his MU roommate, Randall Boggs(Steve Buscemi is back from the original), and then his large, arrogant, hairy, blue fellow “Scare Program” fraternity pledge, James P. “Sulley” Sullivan(who else, but the returning voice of John Goodman). Then there’s rivalry, the tyranny of the strict Dean Hardscrabble(voiced by Oscar winner Helen Mirren), and the Scare Games competition, where the eager pledges fight desperately to be accepted into the Scare Program, while it seems unlikely that the studious Wazowski and the lazy legacy Sulley(his dad, you see, was a legendary scarer of the Roar Omega Roar fraternity)can ever become true friends.
The second half of the film has a distinct “Revenge of the Nerds” feel to it once the Scare Games are underway, and this seemed to be the point where my five year-old son lost interest. Ditto for Daddy. There wasn’t enough true tension there for starters, because I knew that all would turn out okay. And it just wasn’t funny enough. Also, as previously lamented, no Boo. We chose the non-3D option for this movie, but it remains a colorful, vibrant romp without shelling out the extra bucks. It’s not offensive in any way(which means director/co-screenwriter Dan Scanlon fails make it edgy), and there’s a sprinkling of knowing adult references—but I could’ve used a few more. So, worth taking your youngster on a summer afternoon? Sure. Anything particularly mind-blowing about it when all is said and done? Unfortunately, not. But it’s a spirited try. And a nostalgic trip that’s ultimately still a slight disappointment. Grade: C+