I can’t imagine anyone watched Monsters, Inc. and thought to themselves, “You know, I wonder what those two monsters were like in college.” But maybe Monsters University makes smart business sense—after all, Monsters, Inc. was released 12 years ago, and lots of the kids who saw the original movie are now college-age themselves. Maybe this movie is for those kids, who are looking for inspiration as young adults; perhaps seeing how Sullivan (John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal) became preeminent scare-harvesters will inspire today’s college kids to reach for the stars? Or something?
Or, more likely, this is just an excuse for Pixar to make a movie in the college-comedy genre. Because that’s pretty much what you get: Young monsters Mike and Sullivan try to prove they’ve got what it takes to succeed in the scariness biz, even though the mean old dean (Helen Mirren) keeps getting in their way. They wind up joining a loser fraternity and fighting the alpha monsters in a competition that drags on too long. It’s maybe the most straightforward, predictable Pixar movie yet (except for Cars 2), and it’s definitely the worst Pixar sequel yet (except for Cars 2).
But you really have to kind of go with the whole academic theme, here, and grade Monsters University on a curve. It’s got some undeniably funny moments (there are lots of surprising sight gags), and at its best it feels like a blockbuster-budget-level Muppet movie. Kids will love it. But it’s not smart or emotionally involving, there are no strong positive female characters, and it’s not at all memorable. Pixar still has a solid-enough record that such frothy, light entertainment feels like a miss, but I’d stack Monsters University up positively against just about every other animated movie that’s come out this year. (Hell, come to think of it, it’s way funnier than The Hangover, Part III.) If you temper your expectations, it’s a harmless enough diversion.