Disney's Pixar has managed to bring their A game every year by creating a slew of witty, poignant, and kid friendly films. The newest release from Pixar is Monsters University. Most of us are familiar with the humble beginnings of the 2001 film Monsters, Inc. Back then Pixar was hitting its stride and seemed to learn a lot from the tropes used in Monsters, Inc. Although it was hard to picture a film that would be able to match the sentimental value that comes with the original, we weren't exactly shooing Monsters University away.
Monsters University is a prequel to the original film. Honing their characters in a basic plot structure, this film introduces children to the quirky muppet-y monsters Sulley (John Goodman) and Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) by introducing them in a whole new world, where the rules are a bit different this time around. In Monsters University we get to see Pixar's first look at the college life, and surprisingly the creators didn't shy away from many of the first-time college experiences that most go through, short of R-rated themes. This film brilliantly stands on its own, due to its subject material, and because its demo audience isn't familiar with the monsters of Monsters, Inc.
In the film we get to see more of the character structure that makes up Mike Wazowski and Sulley, as we experience their crazy hi-jinks and hard lessons during their freshman year of college. That said, despite its G rating, we wondered how appropriate some of the situational comedy is for children. Although it's mostly harmless jokes that will fly over kids heads, here’s a few points to be noted as you prepare to take the kids out to see what's probably the best animated film of the summer.
Here’s a few extremely spoiler-y things to consider before taking your kids to see Monsters University:
THE BLUE UMBRELLA - Opening short plays with an adult situation:
Pixar's tradition of presenting a short before their main attraction should be expected. This time around it’s The Blue Umbrella. A fantastically made short, The Blue Umbrella is an endearing journey of an umbrella's search for its love in a rain storm. For the most part it's something to coo at and delight in, but there's a moment that results in the umbrella getting hit by a car that might be too scary for kids.
1. Sulley and Mike Wazowski are lovable but act selfishly:
Through most of the film Sulley and Mike Wakowski go through something that resembles teen angst and ultimate self-discovery. For the most part they are college rivals and both underestimate each other's qualities. Both are competitive, and arrogant in their own right. In the process they are pretty petty. It isn't really addressed that this behavior isn't "okay" but they do eventually become friends.
2. Stereotypical college-esque characters will not be understood:
Although parents will laugh at the familiar college-esque characters introduced, kids will not immediately understand what's so funny about some of the characters seen in the first ten minutes of the film. Monsters University follows a very excited Mike Wazowski through his first day on the quad where he meets the goths, presumably the stoners, the hyperactive super-engaging kids, and other stereotypes that won't really register beyond the surface level.
3. Helen Mirren makes one intimidating villain:
More intimidating than she is truly monovalent, Helen Mirren plays Dean Hardscrabble, the scariest monster of them all as a hybrid dragon-millipede creature. Dean Hardscrabble intimidates all of the characters, and swoops in for most of her scenes that might momentarily frighten children. One particular scene shows her throwing Sulley and Mike Wazowski out of the Scare program, which might quicken your kid’s pulse for a few seconds.
4. You’ll have to explain what fraternities are:
If you want to get your kid started on early pledges before Kindergarten enrollment, this film does a good job in introducing the frat lifestyle on a G-rated level. The Greek slogans are all used, and the special elitism comes into play when social rankings enter into Mike Wazowski's world. Kids won't see these fraternities as anything other than a bunch of meanies, though the word fraternity might be brought up in a conversation or two, so get ready for that.
5. Questionable college situations arise:
There are plenty of social settings experienced in college that the film explores, as the two leads discover their own shortcomings socially and physically. The group of reject monsters will face nerves on getting into their first house party, their first rave, and will watch a popular Sulley play beer pong with the cool letter-jacket monsters. While there’s no salacious activity going on, you may have to explain to your kid what the big deal is.
6. One of the monsters has been to jail:
Distract your kid and he or she will miss the line that seems to get the most laughs from Monsters University. After Sulley and Mike Wazowski get kicked out of their monster-scaring major, the two assemble a troop that resembles a Revenge of The Nerds to compete in the Scare Games so the two can get back into the program. The group gets into some funny situations. The “jail” reference happens during an illegal trespassing scene. Art, hands down the funniest hippie-esque monster (Charlie Day) of them all exclaims, "I can't go back to jail!" All while one of the monster’s mothers is waiting in the getaway car while listening to death metal music.
7. The message is a bit dark for children:
In the end Sulley and Mike Wazowski end up to be great friends, and we know how they'll end up because of Monsters, Inc, but the message in this film differs. In the first film they come to realize that kids don't deserve the scaring tactics and befriend scene-stealer Boo. In Monsters University Mike desperately wants to be the scariest monster, but he falls short because he simply doesn't have the physical attributes or skill no matter how hard he tries. The message is as much as you wish something to come true; the circumstances that you're given need to be dealt with, and you have to make the best with what you have. It's a bit of a departure from some of Disney's "dream big" films. Either way the message does a good job at tugging at your heartstrings in true Pixar fashion.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY IS OUT JUNE 21.