This was Mike’s story, after all. “Monsters University,” the second of the Pixar franchise, is the story of how protagonists Mike and Sully met. It’s a shade of what the franchise once was, though not surprisingly; after all, “Monsters, Inc.” was released 12 years ago. It exposes Sully’s slacker past and brings to light the trials and tribulations the pair went through to get where they were 12 years ago (huh?) — from kicked out of college to the mail room to the janitor’s closet.
Mike, voiced by Billy Crystal, is as cute as a button as a kid, no more than triple the size of a nickel. He believes he’s destined to be a scarer, inspired on a class field trip to Monsters, Inc., where he meets the man he grows up idolizing. He’s studious because that’s the only way he’ll get where he wants to go, but he runs into others who’ve had it easier. There are plenty of physically gifted scare students at Monsters University, but there are others (Sully, for example) who have been given everything since childhood. See, Sully is a legacy. No wonder the fraternities want him. He’s a Sullivan.
His story, unfortunately, isn’t friendly to this movie. Nobody likes a legacy. Nobody is reading “The Hunger Games” rooting for the Careers. In Monsters U, Sully turns into a drastically different character than the one we met in “Monsters, Inc.” He’s not totally likable, whereas Mike is. That’s why this was Mike’s story the whole time, it just took us until this film to figure it out. He’s believes in himself to a fault, which makes him unquestionably likable. He’s overlooked and bullied, but he wont give up. Moreover, Mike saves Sully from himself. He’s the key to all of this.
The film struggles in its college environment. It wasn’t the greatest framework, I suppose. I would’ve rather watched Mike and Sully find their true calling as scarers, starting out as struggling, possibly unemployed, adults. The film spends a lot of time experiencing college life — going greek, partying, stealing the rivals’ mascot, going to class — and waits too long to get to the annual Scare Games. The Games are pretty cool. They’re stages of scare tests and the losing team each time is knocked out. Think, obviously, Greek Week. The best stage is in the library, where teams are asked to dodge a giant, octopus librarian in order to capture a flag.
It all culminates in one final test, the scare simulator. Here, the movie has a false ending; however, that’s one of the good things about the film. The ending saves “Monsters University.” This ending gives the movie meaning and portrays the start of a real friendship, whereas before Mike and Sully were merely working together in order to avoid getting kicked out of school. (Of course, this happens anyway.) The ending is exactly what we thought the film would lead to. It shows us the codependency of Mike and Sully, which is an important bone of their relationship.
Twelve years later, Billy Crystal and John Goodman’s voices are pretty worn out, but casting directors Natalie Lyon and Kevin Reher do a good job surrounding them with fresh, exuberant ones. Aubrey Plaza plays the Greek Council President, Bill Hader a referee and a slug, John Krasinski as Frank McCay, and Bonnie Hunt voices Mrs. Graves. Director Dan Scanlon and his team deserve credit here, too.
The small things work for “Monsters University,” but the big picture is disappointing.
“Monsters University”: ★★