June 24, 2013 at 11:27 AM ET
The new Monsters University is a sweet prequel to the original Monsters, Inc., but is your child old enough to see it? Read our review from Common Sense Media to find out.
Rating: Ages 5+
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Monsters University—a prequel to Pixar's hit 2001 comedy Monsters, Inc.—tells the story of how Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) met in college. This animated comedy has fewer frightening antagonists than the original, but it does include several scenes of monsters trying to scare simulated (or in a couple of cases real) kids. The flying Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) is a scary sight, and there's some mild bullying and pranks from the popular fraternities and sororities toward Oozma Kappa (Mike and Sulley's frat of misfits). Some scenes imply a little bit of college "partying" (characters hold red party cups, the contents of which aren't discussed), and there's one kiss. Fans of the original comedy will recognize certain characters and themes, which ultimately emphasize friendship, teamwork, and perseverance to overcome your fears.
What's the story?
In this prequel to Monsters, Inc., a young Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) first idolizes professional scarers during an elementary school field trip to the Monsters, Inc. factory, where a top scarer encourages the kids to attend his alma mater, Monsters University, and bestows on little Mike an MU cap. Years later, Mike has finally arrived at MU, ready to prove that, despite his unintimidating looks, he can be a scarer, too. He and his roommate, Randall (Steve Buscemi), end up in a class that's interrupted by an imposing young monster, James P. Sullivan, aka Sulley (John Goodman). Cocky "natural" scarer Sulley rubs hardworking Mike the wrong way, and, on the day of their final exam, the strict Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) throws them out of the scarer program. But the annual Greek Scare Games offers the two flunkies one last chance to rejoin the program, if they can somehow lead their newfound fraternity of misfits, Oozma Kappa (OK), to victory.
Is it any good?
Monsters University is a clever mix of the best (and cleanest, of course) of college comedies like Revenge of the Nerds, Animal House, Old School, and basically any movie in which a band of misfits rallies together and emerges victorious against all odds. As in Revenge, Monsters' much-ridiculed OK fraternity includes a hilarious group of misfits: mama's boy Squishy (Peter Sohn), two-headed Terry (Dave Foley) and Terri (Sean Hayes), mustachioed "mature" student Don (Joel Murray), and U-limbed Art (Charlie Day). Each is adorably memorable for their earnest enthusiasm and their complete lack of guile (although Art is, surprisingly, an ex-con).
The story arc is simple and formulaic, but that's fine. Most movies are derivative, so it's just a matter of how well the filmmakers put their own spin on a tried and true story. In this case, the Pixar crew has lovingly refashioned the R-rated fraternity comedy into a G-rated adventure that kindergarteners, fraternity brothers, and tired parents can all enjoy equally and without reservation. Pixar purists may quibble that the studio is becoming more mainstream and losing its artistic edge. But that doesn't mean that Monsters University isn't a beautifully animated comedy filled with nuanced jokes and perfect characterization. Watching Mike and Sulley go from frenemies to friends isn't as revolutionary as watching them save Boo, but Pixar still deserves an A for making audiences laugh and love these characters all over again.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
—Families can talk about whether Monsters University lives up to your expectations. Do you wish it had been a sequel instead? Which do you usually prefer—sequels or prequels?
—How does Monsters University depict the college experience? Parents, talk to your kids about which aspects of university life are realistic.
—For those who've seen the first movie, what does the prequel explain about the friendship between Mike and Sulley or the way Randall dislikes them?
—What else do you learn? The movie is about monsters, but it's not intended to be scary. Do you think that combination works well for young kids?
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.