Monsters University (2013)

Monsters University

Directed by: Dan Scanlon, 2013, US

By: D.G. McCabe

There is somewhere in the Great Code of Hollywood that says that some studio must release a college movie that more or less follows the plot of “Revenge of the Nerds” (1984) or “Animal House” (1978) every few years.  There’s the misfit group, the “cool” group, and the former has to defeat the latter in some competition in which the misfit group becomes the cool group.  Or just destroys the town in a really stupid and futile gesture done on someone’s part.

This basic plotline has certainly been done well in Old School (2003), and The Social Network (2010) among other movies.  It has also been done poorly, in the case of the endless straight to DVD American Pie spin-offs and National Lampoon movies.  Fortunately for summer moviegoers looking for an escape from the heat and an escape from super hero movies, Monsters University falls squarely in the first category.

Now as a Pixar movie, Monsters University doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of Wall-E (2008) or Up (2009), but c’mon.  We need to stop comparing every movie that opens with a cartoon desk lamp to every other movie that opens with a cartoon desk lamp.  Instead of comparing Monsters University to movies it has nothing in common with, let’s see where it succeeds compared to other college movies.

The audience, of course, already knows the team of Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) from 2001’s Monster, Inc., so besides the “Revenge of the Nerds” plot there’s also the “familiar heroes meet each other” plot.  Despite its adherence to formula for the first three quarters of the movie, Monsters University also goes somewhere that other college films tend to ignore – why we go to college in the first place.  For most of us, this means “actually learning how to do something” rather than only “party down.”  Mike goes to college because he wants to become a scarer, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make it as one.

What I also liked the most is that it shows the conflict between the guy who has to work at it (Mike) versus the guy who it comes naturally to (Sully) and how this plays out in an academic environment.  We all knew that one guy in school who could drink all night and still get straight A’s, and we all knew the guy who had to study endless hours to pull off those same straight A’s.  What’s interesting is what happens when the guy who didn’t have to study suddenly has to, or the guy who has to study reaches a wall where he doesn’t have the natural gifts to get past.  Monsters University explores this area.  It also has goofy monster jokes, so there’s that too.

While Monsters University may not reach the heights of other Pixar films, and isn’t quite as good as the original Monsters, Inc., it’s still better than 90% of the films in theaters this summer and definitely worth your $10.

You might like Monsters University if: You like college movies, Pixar movies, or fun summer movies.

You might not like Monsters University if: You still can’t get over the “cartoons are for kids” concept.

(c) 2013 D.G. McCabe